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Just Breathe

Written by Caroline Hodges, PTA of The Green Room Physical Therapy

For an activity as fundamental and essential as breathing, it’s one of the most difficult for many people to properly execute when combined with exercise. Do you ever find yourself turning red in the face, bearing down, puffing your cheeks out and holding your breath when lifting a heavy box, resistance training, or simply changing position from laying down to sitting? This is a common maneuver widely used that may be the foundation of your chronic back pain, hernias, pelvic floor dysfunction, high blood pressure, poor posture, or other injuries.

When performing a physically demanding task, it’s common to hold breath and bear down as a crutch for poor coordination of muscular activation and body mechanics, but it can lead to injury and deprives our muscles of necessary oxygen. By cutting off the oxygen to our bodies, we risk hernias, muscle cramping and dizziness, which can also lead to a fall.

Instead of holding your breath, practice exhaling during the contraction. For example, if you’re completing a bicep curl, inhale while the arm is lengthened and exhale when contracting/shortening the arm. When completing a high intensity workout or running, focus on either nose breathing or breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. This will help to better, more effectively regulate respiration for better oxygenation and increased endurance.

During rest and activity, avoid shallow panting through the mouth! This works the upper chest and accessory muscles more than the diaphragm and lungs, which results in less efficient delivery of oxygen and greater energy expenditure. Mouth breathing rewires the system to lower the threshold of carbon dioxide tolerance which upregulates the nervous system, placing more stress on the body.

Test your breathing patterns

While lying on your back with knees bent, place one hand over your chest and another over your belly. Breathe comfortably and try to notice how your hands rise and fall with each breath. Now, on the next inhale, direct the breath into your abdomen and allow the belly to fill. Does your hand raise with it? Is it difficult to direct your breath deep into your lungs and belly? During healthy breathing patterns, we should see the chest rise, lateral rib excursion, and belly rise. If you notice your chest and ribs are doing most of the motion, attempt to channel the breath into your belly and vice versa.

Still having trouble and notice that you also have back pain, a hernia, urinary dysfunction, or some other ailment? Contact us to set up a consultation! Easily request a free consult or full evaluation here: We are trained to thoroughly assess and treat these areas to relieve your pain and empower YOU to maintain your progress.

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