Take Home Points:
- Chronic low level stress and sedentary activity reduced your capability to retrieve and utilize oxygen, produce energy and remove waste products of our body’s energy supply system
- A normal, healthy breath is a slower breath that uses the diaphragm and goes all the way to the belly. Deepening your breath like this and also slowing it down can help ease stress quickly
- Diaphragm dominant breathing can help bring the oxygen and C02 levels in your body back into balance, helping the body’s tissues and organs receive the oxygen they need to keep you healthy and energized. This will allow you to heal from injuries or workouts in less time and to concentrate and practice your golf at a higher level of effectiveness for longer periods.
- Shallow / stressed breathing will make it more difficult for the body to actually “relax” during mobility focused training and little to no appreciable change in the body’s functional range will occur
- In addition, during more physically demanding tasks we will not be able to provide our bodies with enough oxygen to satisfy the metabolic demands of the activity which creates earlier fatigue and diminished performance
- Corrective exercise: Crocodile breathing
- Corrective exercise: Relaxation breathing
- Corrective exercise: Seated breathing
What happens if we don’t breathe effectively?
Most people don't breathe well. Many are shallow breathers. This seems to be even more the case with our increasingly sedentary life styles and when we are under chronic high or low level stress. This leads to less oxygen transfer in the lungs with devastating long term consequences for our brain and body function.
Sedentary lifestyle and stress:
Although we can not function without oxygen, we can exist in a reduced capacity by breathing inefficiently and consuming less oxygen. A sedentary lifestyle will lead to changes in the posture and breathing. This results in a reduced capacity in our breathing. This net effect is a reduced capability to retrieve and utilize oxygen, produce energy and remove waste products of our body’s energy supply system.
It is quite easy to note someone who chronically breathes in an inefficient shallow manner. Some of the secondary muscles of respiration (pec minor, scalenes, levator scapulae, upper trapezius, erector spinae and subclavius) can be seen in someone wearing a tank top. These muscles will be seen to be overdeveloped and recruit too quickly with exercise or any situation of increased stress (whether physical or psychological).
When we get put into a stressful situation our autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that functions predominantly within our subconscious control) goes into a sympathetic (stress) dominant mode.
A majority of society lives in an overactive or stressed manner for large percentages of each day. This stress may be a result of home, work, social or golf. Whether this stress is conscious or subconscious it has the effect of altering our muscle tone and increasing the activity of our secondary respiratory muscles and often inhibiting the function of our primary muscles of respiration. The result of this chronic low level stress, especially when combined with a movement deprived lifestyle is an alteration in the way we breathe.
You may have noticed: when you feel stressed out your breathing changes. If you are feeling under stress for a while, it can change your overall pattern of breathing. A shallow breath that only goes down as far as the chest area can become a habit.
This kind of breathing has several consequences. If you were breathing that way because you were about to run from danger (say a crocodile!). You’d run fast, get away, and then pant and recover until your breathing and bio-chemistry returned to a more relaxed normal state. Of course, if you’re breathing that way but still sitting in a chair, your body doesn’t have a chance to go through that normal cycle. The stress hormones and tension continue. So does tighter, shallower stress breathing. The reduced capacity for gas exchange can keep your stress high, and begin to harm your health over time.
A normal, healthy breath is a slower breath that uses the diaphragm and goes all the way to the belly. Deepening your breath like this and also slowing it down can help ease stress quickly. And this healthier breathing can also help bring the oxygen and C02 levels in your body back into balance, helping the body’s tissues and organs receive the oxygen they need to keep you healthy and energized. This will allow you to heal from injuries or workouts in less time and to concentrate and practice your golf at a higher level of effectiveness for longer periods.
Our emotions and adrenaline can affect our breath. When we are feeling calm and centered our breath moves into a slower rhythm, and we are more likely to breathe into our diaphragm. But when we are stressed or anxious, stress breathing is more common, with shallower, tighter, faster breath.
We see this many times with our golfers, from the country club to the professional levels, when they are playing golf with something on the line. This could be an amateur playing a round in the presence of strangers (or during her club championship) to professionals playing on Sunday with a chance to win their first tour event or major championship. The breathing rate increases and the depth of each breath is less which creates a more stressful internal environment and the release of stress hormones. This hampers the golfer’s ability to make effective swings or course management decisions and the scoring worsens.
In golf this is a major issue, as we will over react to situations outside of our control, and will be unable to refocus on the next shot. Our system will be overloaded from the emotional dump experienced by the previous shot. This can easily snowball into a bad round.
Having the ability to recognize this change in breathing and the knowledge to rectify it can be a powerful tool.
To increase the function of our respiratory system and allow our emotions to be experienced more fully it’s helpful to learn to breathe into the abdominal area. Often this requires a little practice and practicing to breathe properly is best learned by utilizing multiple positions. Some estimates suggest over 50% of all adults use chest breathing most of their day.
When we breathe more slowly using the diaphragm, this allows us to break the habitual stress breathing habit that mimics fight or flight. Our bodies can move into relaxation. And we can become more aware of our emotions. This allows us to make better decisions on the golf course and have a more meaningful response to each situation we find ourselves.
Consequences of faulty breathing patterns during exercise:
As this pillar will deal with movement and conditioning it is important that we appreciate how improved breathing function will positively affect our ability to make improvements in the gym that actually carry over into our golf game.
1.) If we are not able to breathe fully and properly during exercise our mobility work will not result in the changes we desire because the body will not allow the nervous system to downgrade and relax and will instead fight the end range with increase tissue tension.
Result = wasted time attempting to increase range of motion and a feeling of frustration and a dislike for mobility focused training
It is important to note the anatomy of the diaphragm at this time. If you look at image 1 below you will note the significant attachment of both the psoas and quadratus lumborum (QL) to the diaphragm. These muscles are important in regulating motion and stability in the hip, pelvis, lower back and bottom of the thoracic spine (area of spine the ribs attach to). A problem with the diaphragm will result in a negative consequence in the function of these and their associated structures and problem with the psoas or QL will negatively affect the function of the diaphragm. Our bodies are very interconnected and the various systems in the body (respiratory, musculoskeletal, circulatory, nervous, etc are all intertwining and really act as one larger functional unit. It just makes it easier to study if we separate them into various groupings.
Image 1: Diaphragm through abdomen
2) During more physically demanding tasks we will not be able to provide our bodies with enough oxygen to satisfy the metabolic demands of the activity which creates earlier fatigue and diminished performance and does not allow for the removal of waste products which reduces our capacity to recover post workout which will then require greater time off between training sessions and less effective tissue recovery = greater likelihood of injury and decreased improvements in performance
This brings us to crocodile breathing. This, along with relaxation breathing and the seated breathing illustrated below are fantastic exercises to begin the appreciation of proper diaphragmatic breathing. Initially, you may find it difficult to feel your lower ribs expand out to the sides or the diaphragm drop into your stomach but in a few focused sessions you will notice huge improvements and will be ready to move on to the rolling exercises in part B of the Reptile Section.
Video 1: Crocodile Breathing
Video 2: Relaxation Breathing
Video 3: Seated Breathing
I believe strongly that the breathing exercises demonstrated above are simple, yet important, features to the Fundamental Series. You should return to these often. IF you suffer an injury to the spine , the hips or really any other body segment focused breathing can greatly help reboot the system and make recovery easier. I find that starting and ending my day or ending my workout with some focused breathing truly helps to prepare me for what is to come and recover from what I just experienced.
Now that you have learned how to experience movement within the diaphragm we will move onto learning how to co-ordinate the upper and lower limb with the spine.