11-13 May 2018.
Old Truman Brewery,

Learning How To Breathe

By Luke Worthington

There’s one important muscle that we can’t see or touch but has a pivotal role in our athletic performance: the diaphragm. As one of the few in the UK to have studied with the Postural Restoration Institute, Luke Worthington, Head of Education and Development at Third Space, is transforming the way his clients train by teaching them how to breathe. Sounds simple but it turns out there’s a lot more to this hidden mechanism than meets the eye. Over to Luke...

We are pre-programmed to survive. Our brain will do everything it can to keep us from dying each day. It ensures our heart pumps blood around our body and that our lungs breathe air in and out. Although we don’t consciously control our hearts, we can control our breath and that’s why these techniques are so powerful.

Our diaphragm is a respiratory muscle. It is ‘designed’ to draw air into our chest. However, much the same way as changing the angle of a bench can make a chest press more or less difficult, changing the position of our hips, ribcage, or any other part of our bodies for that matter can put the diaphragm in a position of weakness. If and when this happens, our brains have to figure out how to get air in and out without using our diaphragm.

Not breathing is not an option, so we breathe from the top of our lungs, which causes us to hunch our shoulders, over extend our lower backs and overuse the muscles in our neck and jaw amongst many other compensations.  This in turn can trigger a cascade of other problems in the hips, knees and even the feet.

Our bodies were not designed to live the way we do. Whether we are sitting at our desks all day or always exercising in the same way, most of us spend far too much time in one position. Essentially, we are forcing our bodies to live a 2D symmetrical existence when we should be thriving within a more asymmetric or 3D way of life.

If you were to draw a line down the middle of your body, you would find it isn’t the same on both sides. Yet, if you think about all the activities we partake in, especially in sport, everything is symmetrically structured. Riding a bike, running, even just walking in a straight line - these activities fit into the centralised world we have constructed around us. But our bodies need rotation in our movements in order to operate correctly.

Ron Hruska, director of the Postural Restoration Institute, believes that common problems such as shoulder or back pain are caused by improper posture and therefore improper breathing. This means fixing your posture can have the most extraordinary effect on almost every function of human movement and performance. All you need is to train your brain to breathe properly in the right position - almost like pushing the reset button on your phone.

By simply assessing your body, your movement patterns, and figuring out where tensions are, (most of us already know that we have a ‘tight’ area) you can understand the reason behind your body’s restrictions. It’s then possible to reverse them by putting yourself into various positions that may feel alien at first but, once you start breathing in, your brain learns to cooperate and realises that no catastrophe happened and you certainly didn’t die.

Whilst these procedures are used to support professional and elite athletes, some with injuries but many without, improving alignment will be beneficial for anyone with aches or niggles. Training your brain to breathe in that new – correct - position can make all the difference to your wellbeing and your performance in sport.

Luke Worthington is a personal trainer at Third Space. He specialises in strength, conditioning and biomechanical assessment, as well as rehabilitation from musculoskeletal injury. Find him on Instagram and Twitter.
Balance Festival Learning How To Breathe