I finished reading this last week – I’d bought after reading / being reminded about the book elsewhere and was curious as to what I’d find useful in it, how it was structured and what it could teach me. It was an easy read, well structured and helpful in understanding how we breathe and how to change this for day to day living, as well as exercise. The first thing that I found really valuable was the assessment around range of motion Location of movement. Location of movement isn’t new to me – the concept of breathing horizontally and almost in a 360 degree fashion, filling from the base of the lungs up and all around. What was new was the assessment for range of motion, measuring at the base of the lungs post inhale & post exhale. This difference, divided by the exhale measurement providing a % which represented your range of motion. Effectively showing how able you were to use your diaphragm. This metric I really like, as it gives a nice yardstick to gauge how your diaphragm is strengthened or improved – something that is key if you want to develop good breathing mechanics.
Following on from this the most interesting exercise that I took away was a version of bellows breath (which is significantly different from the traditional yogic version). The focus here was on getting the diaphragm working before you started moving onto anything more taxing. The specific focus on the diaphragm I loved, as it draws attention to an area that is so key to posture and movement and something that gets regularly overlooked.
After reading about this exercise I went back to Alison McConnell’s book Breathe strong, Perform better, where she focuses on tuning into how we use the diaphragm – and if we do use the diaphragm. I was sure that she had some early exercises that work on this relationship, which she does. One such leading to using a band around the lowest rib and breathing in and out of this, to trigger the diaphragm and strengthen it. I could see a great combination of both exercises, where you focus on slow deliberately inhales and exhales, against resistance, to build up both nervous system proprioceptive understanding, thicken (and therefore strengthen) the diaphragm and improve breathing mechanics. Giving this a go I really like how effective this is at directing your attention to exactly the area that you want to work. The resistance of the band giving instant feedback on how you are shifting the distance that you are able to inhale and exhale, alongside which the sensory feedback on breathing horizontally in a 360 degree fashion.
As I got through the book there a couple of really succinct observations:
“Since you can’t feel your breathing muscles burn or tire the way external muscles do, it just feels as if you don’t want it bad enough” (page 92)
I wonder how many athletes would shift their perception of effort and tiredness if they had this realisation uppermost in their mind, when they trained and competed?
The second was from a study carried out by researchers at the University of Toronto:
“It documented that the strength of your breath is directly related to how far the diaphragm can move, or how forcefully it can contract. Simply put: stronger diaphragm equals more air in, more easily” (page 94)
The takeaway here for me is how key introductory breathwork training for the diaphragm is and this readily achieved through a combination of slow deliberate breathing, suing resistance.
Strengthen your diaphragm – move better for longer