Breathing is something that comes to us naturally. It is an innate ability from the moment we enter this world. Yet, as our understanding of the human body and its capabilities continue to expand, so too do our understandings of the breath and the role it plays in our physical abilities. Diaphragmatic breathing is a technique that- you guessed it- helps to engage your diaphragm when you breathe. It increases and improves the body’s ability to inhale and utilize oxygen, whilst helping to correct our breathing and posture. Using the same technique before and during exercise can improve your stamina, reduce injuries, lower cortisol levels and improve your results!
The Diaphragm- It's How We Should Breathe
The diaphragm is a muscle. It is found at the base of our lungs, and when used correctly is responsible for more than 80% of our breathing. It works in conjunction with our lower abdominal muscles to empty and fill our lungs to a greater capacity.
However, a lifetime of poor posture and a general lack of understanding of its role has left many people with a weakened or under-utilized diaphragm. When the diaphragmatic muscle is strong and operating effectively it can improve the body’s ability to inhale and absorb oxygen, whilst reducing the need for the same breathing muscles to over-exert.
Conversely, when people over-rely on filling the upper lungs (mostly out ofhabit) it can lead to shorter, weaker breaths, and less efficiency converting that oxygen within the lungs. This can lead to an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure, which can also lead to the unintentional release of cortisol (stress) hormones.
“No matter how clear the concept of diaphragmatic breathing may be, if the diaphragm is weak then breathing is less effective than it can be”
—Rolf Sovik, Yoga International
What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?
Diaphragmatic breathing is a controlled technique that involves consciously breathing using the diaphragm, in a manner that feels like it is inflating your stomach instead of the upper chest.
It emphasises inflating the diaphragm during the inhale and maintains that abdominal pressure during the exhales in order tostrengthen the diaphragm muscle. Just like doing repetitions in the gym strengthens our skeletal muscles, diaphragmatic breathing strengthens the diaphragm over time.
Then, it allows us to utilise this strength and technique when we aren’t aware of it, which in this case literally helps us to breathe easier. But strengthening the diaphragm can also improve our posture, strength, stabilisation, and reduce our risk of injury to boot.
The Way You Breathe During a Workout Matters
Whether it’s an aerobic exercise like running orHIIT training, or anaerobic likelifting weights, the way you breathe matters. In order to move, your muscles need oxygen. The more exertion, the more oxygen. Pretty simple, right?
In the same vein, then, it’s easy to see that the more efficiently your body can inhale and deliver that oxygen to your muscles, the harder your body can work and the bigger and quicker you are likely to see improvements in your athletic pursuits.
“Each time you inhale, you take in oxygen, which your body needs to function. The more that you move, the more oxygen you need.”
—Sadia Benzaquen, M.D., Pulmonologist
Because of this relationship between breathing and stamina, it should be one of your main focal points before, during and after yourworkout. It is also crucial to any real warmup and workout plan.
When it is understood and correctly practiced, diaphragmatic breathing becomes more natural and can help to:
- Strengthen the diaphragm
- Improve posture, andpostural awareness
- Lift heavier weights by strengthening yourcore muscle stability and abdominal walls
- Increase range of motion when combined with movement practices like yoga
- Slow your rate of breathing, conserving energy and allowing the body to better utilise the oxygen it is taking in
- Boost your muscular endurance, regardless of whether it’s cardio or anaerobic exercise
- Recover more quickly from high-intensity exercise
- Lower the heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduce the risk of injury from incorrect form, or overexertion
- Increase the body’s tolerance for higher intensity workouts
Not convinced yet?
Diaphragmatic Breathing in Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise, like running, requires rapidly increasing our oxygen intake. It stands to reason, then, that training the muscle responsible for this intake (the diaphragm) also increases our propensity for aerobic performance.
Somestudies have shown that incorrect breathing during running can affect our speed, not just our performance.Others have concluded that combining diaphragmatic breathing with aerobic exercise increased lung capacity and forced expiratory volume (the strength/volume of exhalation) as effectively as those solely undertaking aerobic training, even though they did half as much exercise.
When it comes to breathing through aerobic exercise, the focus should be on establishing a regular, controlled breathing pattern. This will vary depending on the form of exercise, but also helps to strengthen the diaphragm and conscious control of our breathing.
Diaphragmatic Breathing and Resistance Training
If you’ve undertaken any sort ofresistance training, you’ll know that the recommendation is to exhale on the concentric phase of a lift (the tough part). That’s because when you forcefully exhale, you more fully engage the core muscles, and that pressure can help to stabilise the spine and create a solid foundation to complete the movement.
“Every inhale and exhale changes the volume of the lungs, which changes the position of the thoracic spine, the ribs, the pelvis, the shoulders, and the inter-abdominal pressure”…
Because of this, the way you breathe can help create “core pressure that stabilises your spine, which helps you lift heavier.’
— Dean Somerset, kinesiologist and exercise physiologist.
Alison McConnel, Ph.D. in Respiratory Physiology and author of Breathe Strong Perform Better has alsoconfirmed that “breathing muscles are an integral part of the core stabilising and postural control systems.”
To put it simply, taking a deep breath at the right time helps to brace the core, whilst also stabilising the spine and preparing the body to deal with a heavy load or impact. As diaphragmatic breathing helps to strengthen and prepare our ‘breathing’ muscles, as well as providing oxygen to the muscles, it is preparing our body to perform heavier lifts, more safely.
How To Improve Your Diaphragmatic Breathing
Like with any form of exercise, your body can improve and adapt. During the first two weeks of training your diaphragm, your body will become more efficient at using the oxygen that you inhale. Soon after,actual changes in the muscles can occur, to fully utilise this increased availability of oxygen.
Once you’ve learnt how to breathe with your diaphragm (see video above), you can integrate 5-10 minutes of breath work into your daily routine to begin to strengthen it. There are a number of techniques, but the two most effective are:
Supine Diaphragmatic Breathing (supported) with Legs Elevated
Supine Diaphragmatic Breathing (Unsupported) With Band
You can also use resistance to train the diaphragm. For example,sandbag breathing is a yogic breathing technique that uses a small sandbag (or another load) on the upper abdominals. The weight of the sandbag requires you to work a little harder to inhale and expand the lungs. As you exhale, the sandbag will naturally push down, causing the breath to flow out quickly.’ By controlling your exhalation you are able to strengthen the diaphragm itself, and the abdominal muscles, which in turn improve your diaphragmatic breathing.
Breathing is such a core component of exercise, and learning how to better initiate and utilise breath in the body is integral to achieving your results. That’s why this month we’ve partnered with Coach David and Turnfit Personal Trainers!
The FIRST 10 people who download the Turnfit app and join the Perfect Posture Program will get their first month FREE!
This program is designed to help you build the right foundations and mindset to get the most from your workouts, and to make sure you’re doing it safely. To take advantage of the offer simply visit the Perfect Posture page, download the Turnfit app and usethe code ‘firstmonth’ at checkout.
The best news? You’ll also get access to the entire Turnfit training app and online training partner to help you maximise your training and results!
About Turnfit Personal Trainers
Turnfit Personal Trainers is founded by David Turnbull or “Coach David” – an experienced and successful Personal Trainer who strives to build happier, healthier lives every day.
With a focus on holistic health, the Turnfit family pride themselves on making a difference and were recently awarded the 2019 Top Choice Award for Personal Trainer in Vancouver.
“It's our mission to help you to build the skills, and mindset, it takes to feel successful in all areas of your life.”