By: Matthew Varca, PT, DPT, PRC
Part 2: Breathing’s Impact On Performance
In part one of the “Breathe your way to improve performance” series we discussed the role of our primary breathing muscle, the diaphragm. We discussed that in the presence of breathing dysfunction the diaphragm will flatten out and pull the low back into extension (think standing with an overarched back, figure 1). This position will contribute to excessive muscle tightness, an unstable core, and a reduced ability to rest and recover which can directly impact an athlete’s ability to perform at his or her maximal potential. In the following article, I will elaborate on a few of these concepts.
Athletes can perform at a high level when they have a core that supports the spine in a multitude of body positions. In the presence of sub-optimal breathing, athletes may adopt a posture that is dominated by low back extension and flared ribs (figure 1). This extended posture will cause the abdominal wall to become weak, elongated, and ineffective in controlling a spine with dynamic athletic activity. This can lead to back, neck, and hip flexor muscle overuse, strain, and tightness.
Just as an athlete cannot go a few days without practice or training the human body cannot go more than five minutes without breathing and oxygen. Oxygen is so critical to our brain that the human body will sacrifice posture, performance and even mobility in a last-ditch effort to breathe. These restrictions in mobility may appear as a limited ability to touch your toes or rotate your shoulder, trunk, and neck (figure 2). Poor mobility decreases an athlete’s potential to adapt and react from everything to a change of direction play to a shortstop having to adjust his body to a line drive.
Sleep is one of the more powerful components of athletic performance and durability. When the diaphragm is not functioning as a breathing muscle your brain will become stuck in a state of over activity, think fight or flight! The fight or flight response is a protective reaction to a threat to your survival (IE I can’t breathe!). This leaves the brain unable to “flip the switch” and transition to a state of rest and recovery. Over time this can lead to diminished performance, poor recovery, and increased risk of injury.
Stay tunes for the final part of the series where I will show you how we can begin to correct your breathing. If you feel your athletic potential can be improved upon, please call Positive Energy. We can help you reach your performance goals!