Your performance is only as good as your next breath.
The ability to breathe in and out effortlessly fuels your body. If you’ve ever experienced a stitch in your side during a race, or collapsing over while trying to pull in your next breath during a tough WOD, then you must develop your respiratory muscles and breathing skills further.
This should always be the top priority.
One of the great things about taking care of your breath is that these muscles interlace and interface with many other trunk and core muscles. This means that when you unlace their stiffness, nagging stickiness and disobedience, many issues all over your body are likely to improve.
Don’t miss Jill on Barbell Shrugged.
Resetting the Supple Leopard
I shared a few of these Breath Reset moves with MobilityWOD Chief Kelly Starrett a few years ago. As a recovering asthma athlete, he saw this as a missing piece in his own self-care practice and immediately applied the techniques to his programming at San Francisco Crossfit. In fact, he was so successful in his treatment that I’ve included his inspiring story in my self-care book, The Roll Model.
Whether you spend 2 minutes doing just one of these reset movements, or indulging for 20, you will feel different on the inside. These moves will alter your state of mind as they help you phase out of an up-regulated sympathetic mode (necessary for maximum output and PR’s) and into your rest/digest/recovery mode. They are your way of fast-tracking mental quietude as well as soft tissue restoration.
Recover well today so that you can cover more ground in tomorrow’s WOD.
Check out Jill’s “Treat While You Train” DVD with Kelly Starrett.
Breath training goes beyond the yoga mat.
If you think methods like breath training and abdominal massage sound a little too much like Guru Yogi speak, just consider my friend Alex Martinez and the nerves he faced while at the NASA Masters National Powerlifting Competition last November.
“Having to spend hours between lifts is not great for keeping supple. After squatting, I got as tight as a drum during the long waits between lifts. I was struggling to get a big breath to get tight. What came to the rescue? …My Captain Coregeous Ball!”
Alex was struggling with warming up for his deadlift with 315 pounds on the barbell. So, for the next 20 minutes he rolled and worked the Coregeous Ball into his diaphragm and psoas muscle. Next, he kneaded and worked the unwanted tension out of the tissues along his spine with a few Therapy Ball Plus Balls. That little bit of self-care ended up making all the difference.
The gut smash!
Twenty minutes after freaking out Alex pulled 422 pounds at a body weight of 165, walking away with a new state record for his age group and weight class.
After the competition Alex shared why proper core function is so important for his lifting. “I was the ONLY lifter who does not wear a belt or wraps. ALL my tension is created naturally. So, when my diaphragm is not working, that is not possible.”
It doesn’t matter what your fitness and performance goals are, success starts with breath.
My Top 3 Self-Care Moves
Here are 3 simple movements that will make an incredible impact on your training and everyday life.
Like Alex, let’s start with the belly.
1. Abdominal Massage
I learned this move from a yoga teacher 24 years ago, and have shared it with hundreds of thousands of people since.
This drill will restore slide and glide in and amongst the multiple abdominal layers, their associated fascias, and the connective tissues. It will also help your diaphragm to function better by removing inhibited and stiff abdominal muscles that can block to the diaphragm’s dynamic motion.
As a bonus, this movement softens scar tissue, relaxes the fascial relationship between the diaphragm and the psoas (your deep hip flexor), and helps to relieve low back pain. And, it’s as simple to perform as it looks.
- Place a “gushy” inflated ball in your abdomen and lie down on it. Inhale and hold your breath while contracting all the muscles in contact with the ball. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then exhale. Repeat this Contract/Relax breath for 10 rounds.
- Move the ball from side to side across your abdomen while breathing without tension or holding.
- Roll the ball up and down, from pelvis to sternum while deeply breathing into your gut.
- Shear your abdomen – Pivot your body around the ball to wind up your abdominal tissues into the ball. Once you can wind up no more, breathe deeply for several breaths, then spin yourself the other way.
- Perform 5-10 minutes of total massage.
If you want to learn how to do more self-massage exercises specific to your movement limitations, check out our course, Movement Specific Mobility. It’s loaded with just over 90 mobility technique videos to help show you how to mobilize properly. Click above.
2. The Thoracic Mow – Your Back Breath
A dynamic rib cage is KEY for healthy breathing.
Your ribs should rotate slightly with each breath you take. If they are too stiff, your neck muscles will hijack your breath and you will be destined to live in the choke-hold of stress breathing.
This move will help the large and small muscles that stitch along your spine to be better hosts for the many rib joints they surround.
- Lie on the floor and place a pair of therapy balls on either side of your spine (with or without the mesh tote).
- Interlace your hands behind your head and slowly roll the balls up and down, right where your rib-cage meets the spine. Press your breath against the balls as you move from vertebrae to vertebrae. MOVE SLOWLY, this should take about 2-5 minutes.
- Begin to lean from side-to-side so that the more weight loads into one ball, than the other. Create this baby serpentine action while breathing deeply. This will help your vertebrae to improve side-bending and rotation.
- Take 2 minutes here.
3. Supra-Clavicle Detangle
This area is what I refer to as “the stress center of respiration” – It works overtime when your diaphragm and intercostals are dysfunctional.
This is a magic point that can soften the grip of the collar of muscles that drape like a tight muscular turtle-neck from the base of your skull and jaw to your shoulder girdle. These include the scalenes, sternocleidomastoid and trapezius. You may even help your first rib to settle into place.
- Nuzzle a small therapy ball into the hollow space above your collarbone and lean into a corner or doorjamb.
- Breathe in all the way, until you hit a “ceiling.” Take about 5-10 breaths to familiarize yourself with this odd position.
- Move your shoulder, arm and head around in every possible direction. Continue to breathe deeply.
- After 2-5 minutes switch sides and repeat. That should get you feeling much better.
For more information on how to reshape your breath, improve mobility, and erase pain, check out my book, The Roll Model. I think you’d really enjoy it.