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Breathing: more than just keeping you alive

Breathe
There are a lot of systems that function subconsciously in your body that you likely take for granted and very rarely, if ever think about; among the most important of these is breathing.  It is an amazing physiological process that allows you to draw oxygen from the air and filter it into your blood stream to keep you alive.  Your brain and spinal cord automatically just do it for you.  You breathe faster when you run and slower when you sleep; it’s a great deal, your body just figures it out how much oxygen you need and alters your breathing rate for you.  The drawback of not being an active participant in your breathing pattern is that you can lose touch with what is ‘normal’ for your body and be unaware of how things like pain, stress and posture are affecting you.

A basic understanding of the biomechanics of breathing and posture will help you understand what I mean.  Your ribcage and thoracic spine are the structural foundation of your torso. The rigidity of it protects your organs and supports your shoulders and neck, while the mobility of it helps you breathe, twist and move.  Your lungs line the inside of your ribcage.  In order for you to draw air into them, your ribcage needs to expand slightly and your diaphragm needs to contract and pull down; this will create a negative pressure and air will be pulled in.  The elastic recoil of your ribcage and diaphragm passively push the air out to complete the breathing cycle.  This keeps you alive.

The diaphragm

There is a difference between being alive and breathing well.  Just because you can breathe, does not mean you are doing a good job at it.  Just because you can stand, doesn’t mean you have good posture.  Just because you can walk, doesn’t mean you are using your body properly. 

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Core Training: When less is more

Big Myth:
–    If you have low back pain that means your “core is weak” and a “core strengthening” program would help you.

Sometimes the above statement is true, but just as often it is absolutely not.  There is not a direct correlation between low back pain and core strength.  In fact, many people that have incredibly strong “core” muscles suffer from regular low back pain, which is because strength is only one element of having good posture, alignment and movement.  It is the overall muscle balance in your body and your relative ability at controlling movement that is the true sign of good core stability and a preventative factor to low back pain.

Many, many, many people are stiff as hell, many of these people have low back pain and many of these people think that their planks, crunches and strength program will make them better.  Well I am here to tell you that there is a good chance it will make them worse.  Granted some will get better, but the most efficient way to improve your strength, flexibility, alignment and pain is to first learn a bit about your body type before pursuing any type of new program.

From a very young age, as you were learning to function in the vertical position, you have been developing strategies for how your body deals with gravity.  You picked up some by watching how your parents stand, walk and move.  You picked up others from your gymnastics classes and soccer practices when you were six.  The hard fall you had on your butt 20 years ago likely altered things and that car accident 5 years ago probably created some compensations.  Long story short, your posture, flexibility, movement and breathing patterns are a cumulative product of everything you have done up until today. Read More

Posted in Blog, Fitness, Low Backs, Pain, Posture Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
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The Deep Inner Unit: "light core"

Your deep inner unit consists of four muscle groups that should work subconsciously to stabilize your pelvis, spine and ribcage under low load postures and movements like standing, bending and walking.  Accidents, injuries and developed muscle imbalances can cause portions of the deep inner unit to not do their job properly; the result can be pain and/or compensation from other muscle groups to try and brace to hold everything together.  Some of your other stronger muscles can make up for the deep inner unit, but this usually leads to too much compression on the joints and immobility in the area.  You function best when your body can use the little muscles to do light stuff and the bigger muscles to do harder stuff.  You can get away with purely building strength in your outer sling muscles, but you will be prone to breaking down more often if the little guys aren’t firing.

The four muscle groups are your pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, multifidus and diaphragm.  They form the bottom, front, back and top of your abdominal and pelvic cavity.  Recruitment of these muscles is more about thinking than doing.  They provide gentle compression to stabilize so your bigger muscles can move you.  I don’t like to re-invent the wheel so the best resource to learn about recruitment of these muscles can be found on Diane Lee’s website here: Training the deep muscles of the core

Although becoming aware of these muscles and consciously training them can be very important, they are supposed to act subconsciously and if you align your body in the proper way they will likely fire on their own.  I find it is the compensation strategies people choose in their posture that are inhibiting these deep inner unit muscles and that helping a person unlearn bracing strategies helps to fire up the deep inner unit more than trying to focus on them alone.  Read More

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What is my core? Depends who you ask

The word core has been very popular for quite a while now in the health, fitness and rehab worlds, but there isn’t really a true agreement as to what it actually means; it really depends on who you talk to.  If you ask physiotherapists, most will focus on the deep, subtle, picky muscles like your transverse abdominus.  If you ask strength and conditioning coaches, most will strive to build bracing stability using the obliques.  If you ask a Pilates instructor, most will focus on breathing and dissociation of movement.  Finally if you ask a lay person, most will just pat their stomach and say ‘I know I need to work on my core,’ without really knowing why.

You can watch the associated video at the end of this article.

So who’s right and who’s wrong?  The answer is you should be able to selectively use your body for whatever task you ask it to do.  The picky little muscles should work subconsciously while you stand, sit, walk and breathe.  The bracing muscles should work when you pick up or push something heavy and you should be able to bend, twist and stretch if you choose.  The people that are wrong are the ones that think their method is the only and best thing for everyone.  Typically the personal trainers need to be introduced to the Pilates instructors and the Pilates instructors need to do some personal training.  Most people have a need to work on something, but it is a misconception that building more strength and stability is always the best option.

Some people are naturally strong and stiff as a board while others are loose jointed with low muscle tone.  The first and best thing you can do for yourself before you attempt to do more of anything physically is to learn about your body type and learn what type of exercise would give you the most benefit.  Read More

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