Breathing/ Bracing Pt. 2 What Does It Look Like?
My home. A well braced structure can support a ton of weight.
Bracing techniques have gained a lot more recognition in the lifting community as of late in no small part due to the work of the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI). The research conducted there helped develop the conversation that maybe a lot of the cues we were giving for the big lifts were not ideal. I have worked with clients primarily in Crossfit gyms. When there are multiple instructors teaching 100 or more different people in a single day to properly barbell squat there will need to be some consistency in cues. It is not uncommon throughout the day to hear “chest up” “arch your back” “knees out” “butt back”. In context, with large general population clienteles these cues are usually effective because they are meant to reverse an action, not just to improve a position. Knees out usually means the person is in valgus (knees caving in) so telling them to push them out is a pretty good idea. Or if a person is in lumbar flexion (low back rounding) telling them to arch just gets back to a neutral position. With one on one clients, however, I get to be a bit more nuanced.
What the folks at PRI have helped me to see is that in order to teach clients proper breathing techniques it is important that they understand position. Think the yoga pose cat/cow. Cat is flexion, cow is extension. Both have a place in daily life but we’ve all been told that flexion is the Devil in exercise, right? When teaching breathing, however, it turns out that the scared cat (in a less extreme manor) is actually our friend. Learning to tuck the pelvis “under” while on all fours puts your diaphragm in an optimal position for maximal expansion. In this position you can “feel” proper breathing technique so that those kinesthetic learners have a reference.
The top image is of a cow pose with an anterior pelvic tilt. The bottom is cat and a posterior pelvic tilt. The posterior tilt allows the diaphragm to inflate to it’s fullest potential.
Another great tool to teaching/ learning proper breathing is called 90/90 breathing. In this pose you simply lay on the ground with your feet against a wall so that your thighs are parallel to the wall and your calves are parallel to the ground. From here, you will lightly press your feet against the wall and lift your pelvis off of the ground (again, slightly) so that it is tucked. Breathe into your belly, feeling it expand 360 degrees, pressing your low back into the ground. Hold the position for a few seconds and relax. Repeat. As a trainer, I’ve found it beneficial to place my fingers on either side of the client’s abdomen to give them a tactile cue. Verbally I might say “push into my hands” or “low back into the floor”. If you are not in a trainer/ trainee situation it would be beneficial to have a workout partner or gym buddy to help cue you.
90/90 breathing is also a good excuse to lie on the floor.
I think one of the best “tricks” I have taken from PRI’s published materials is the use of a balloon in cueing breath exercises. When in the 90/90 position place a balloon in your mouth and blow. What happened? All of those things that we were activally trying to achieve through single corrections happened involuntarily. Low back and belly inflate and you feel the bracing as you try to inflate the balloon. Your ears may pop or you might blow air out the other end, don’t worry, you’re doing it right.