By Stephanie Clark, Head Athletic Trainer
Have you ever noticed the way babies breathe? A baby’s whole belly moves, and their shoulders don’t move at all.
Now you try; take a big breath. What happens? Do your shoulders move up? Does your belly move? Does your chest rise up? Or does it puff out?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are breathing wrong. When babies breathe, they are using their diaphragm, and their abdominal muscles to help move air out of their bodies.
As you breathe, multiple muscles are working at the same time to help with the process of inhalation and exhalation. As we inhale, the diaphragm (the muscle right under our rib cage) is supposed to pull the rib cage down, allowing for negative air pressure to help inflate the lungs. So why is that babies use their stomachs and we tend to use our shoulders? Our shoulder muscles tend to be stronger and larger than our diaphragm, and when the diaphragm, abdominal muscles or our intercostal (the muscles along the rib cage) don’t work the right way. The accessory muscles of breathing end up taking over due to their size. Another reason could be posture. Poor posture leads to overworked, overstretched, and overused muscles. Or, perhaps, you once had an injury and never healed the correct way, so your body has evolved over the injury.
Proper breathing may benefit you more than you think. It can help to improve joint range of motion, maintain optional movement patterns of our lungs, decrease injury risk, delay fatigue of muscles through changes in our PH, and allow you to shift into a parasympathic state (which helps you to relax).
I’m sure you are wondering: can this be fixed?
Yes! But like most things in life, you need to practice.
Here are few exercises to try.
1) If you lay down on your back, bend both your knees and keep your feet hip width apart and on the ground. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
2) Take a big breath in, using your belly and then allow the breath into your lungs.
3) When you exhale, release your chest first then your belly. Watch and feel your belly rise with every inhale and fall with every exhale.
4) Now, keep one hand on your belly and the other on the side of your chest. Breathe big into your belly; at the same time, feel your ribs expand into your hand. Eventually, the goal is to try and do this standing.
A couple key points: Make sure your neck muscles are relaxed; as another accessory muscle the muscles in the front of your neck tend over work, as well. Also, try to breathe in through your nose and exhale out your mouth.
Keep practicing your breathing to help you in your everyday life.