Breathing: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Keep Calm and Breathe

Breathing: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Do you suffer from anxiety, cold extremities, tiredness, “brain fog (confusion)”, weakness, poor core stability/strength (that means back pain…), food allergies, headaches and pain in the neck and shoulders?
If you answered yes to any of these, don’t worry, this is talking directly to you. How you breathe is directly affecting these and many other aspects of your life.

Whether you work with me to lose fat, maximize your athletic potential, get healthy (the list goes on and on) the bottom line is you came here to have a better quality of life. Of all the things I can teach you (and that’s a lot, believe me) maybe the most important thing I can teach you is how to breathe.

I cannot stress enough for you is the importance of breathing.

Let’s do some math.

The average American takes in 20,000 breathes a day. That’s a little over 12 breathes per minutes or about once every 5 seconds. It is the most frequent activity our body does next to having a heartbeat.

It is also the infinitely critical to our survival.

Some have documented hunger strikers surviving up to 40 days without food, 3-5 days without water, but only a few minutes without air. It’s that critical.

Your body, regardless of how we want it to function, is smarter than you and its primary concern is survival. (we can try to fight it, but survival always trumps intention)

Your body will get air even if it has to sacrifice balance, posture, etc. Bottom line, your body will prioritize breathing no matter what position you put it in.

That being said, not many of us breathe well.

Proper breathing requires proper alignment of a couple of key components of our bodies: the diaphragm and pelvic floor.

The Diaphragm




The Pelvic Floor

pelvic floor


This is a quick video on how the Diaphragm works. (seriously give a quick look)

Fair warning, I am going to get geeked up here (shout out to the Diagnosis Fitness crew and PRI, the Postural Restoration Institute, for this info)

This is where it is going to get slightly complicated.

Most of us life in a perpetual state of extension as explained below.

“Perceived threat based on sensory inputs from any physiological system has the capacity to drive an individual into a predictable lateralized pattern of posture, movement, and potential dysfunction.
It is the accommodation and subsequent adaptation of physiological systems governed by a cortical hierarchy that prevents or allows reciprocity. The limiting systems(s) preventing reciprocity need not be the system that initiated lateralization. The invariant representations within the neocortex individualize and determine the threat-level stimulus for lateralization. State of and interaction of physiological systems influence the strength of the stimulus and the resultant response.”

-Bill Hartman and Eric Oetter

Told you complicated….

Here is what that means in English.

Any stimulus, internal or external, has the ability to put us into our pattern of extension. We get comfortable here, and therefore we want to stay here. (i.e. it becomes our new zero, our new baseline; our body knows it can breathe here and it becomes our default setting)

Our hips are tilted forward (anterior tilt) and most of us have a lateral shift as well. (that means we tend to stand on one leg bearing most of our weight, usually the right leg, using the other as mostly a kickstand. Check out Marshall demonstrating the typical extension pattern. Seriously, look around sometime and see how many people are stuck in this position?

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marshall extension

this f’ing guy…

The natural asymmetry of the diaphragm tends to create this pattern in 99.99999% of human beings.

Think about it. We have two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, etc. but we have one heart on the left/central part of our body, one liver on the right, along with different diaphragmatic discrepancies such as more crural attachments on the lumbar spine, right versus left lung control, and lung structure. Couple that with sitting down all day and we tend to have horrific posture, and we are set up to have really inefficient breathing.

In short, asymmetry is unavoidable.

It is natural and we can’t fight it, but we can return to a state of neutral and reciprocity.

Well, how bad could it really be?.

-? Reduced oxygen to cells (Bohr Effect)

– Depletion of Ca and Mg(Calcium and Magnesium)

-? Reduced blood ?ow to brain (by 50%), limbs, and heart

So?about that last one?

Our inefficient breathing patterns under supply our brain and body with oxygen and an inability to exhale completely further skews the balance between O2 and CO2 in our bodies altering our blood pH.

Seeing as our brain controls all the subsystems of our body (the circulatory, digestive, endocrine, etc) if the brain is under supplied, all the systems operating underneath it are under supplied.

Still following me?

We are almost there?.

There is good news!

If we align the diaphragm and pelvic floor, we can increase the efficiency of our breathing, our brain, and by extension, all our body’s subsystems.

Simple concept, difficult explanation.

Well, now that you know you don’t breathe properly and why it is so bad, we can show you how to work on it.

The video below will show you an easy exercise that you can perform on a daily basis in order to help improve the alignment of the diaphragm and pelvic floor, increase the efficiency of your breathing, and ultimately improve the quality of your workouts and your life.

Give them a try and let us know how you feel, and please remember, the devil is in the details so concentrate and perform them with the attention they deserve.

90/90 Hip Lift w. balloon

That’s not all.

On a daily basis here in the gym we are also working on training our core and alignment.

We stretch and roll the hip flexors (when tight, they pull our hips into anterior tilt), we strengthen the hamstrings (when weak, they allow anterior tilt to worsen, when they strengthen, they pull us back into alignment), and we strengthen our abdominal muscles with planks, crunches, and roll-outs. (as they get stronger, they pull our hips up and out of the anterior tilt)

The combination of all of these factors helps us to retrain how our core (diaphragm) works and will in turn, over time, help our whole body function better.

Powerful stuff. Let me know what you think or how else you try to train this on Facebook or Twitter. As always, I love hearing your feedback.



About the Author: Marshall Ray

Marshall Ray is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Level 2 Poliquin International Certified Strength Coach (PICP), Biosignature Practitioner and a certified Precision Nutrition Coach (Pn1). He is the founder of Faster Fitness and co-founder of Femme Fit. He's passionate about building a community of people who love fitness and taking control of their health.