Start Stretching for Breath

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I still believe in static stretching.

It continues to bring value to the quality of my movement, so I won’t go extreme and throw it out like so many have, yet.

Yoga is heavily built around a static-stretch-like model, and yoga has been practiced for thousands of years.  So again, I won’t ditch it right now.  There is some value in stretching.

In fact, if you do a quick Google search, you’ll realize that static stretching is as controversial as aerobic conditioning, and that is saying something because aerobic training is the red-headed step child of the fitness industry.

—>  The foolishness of static stretching…

We are foolish to think that we can unwind a body that has been situated in a fixed position for 7-8+ hours most days of the week, by stretching for a mere 30 seconds.  I think that is foolish.

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Many of us assume a posture similar to this for 7+ hours/day.

It’s like trying to stop a tank by throwing rocks at it.

7-8+ of keeping your muscles in a lengthened or a shortened state.  That is a long time to keep muscles in a dormant and lengthened state.  When we feel tight muscles, instinctually most of us will attempt to stretch those muscles in some way.  The attempt to restore shortened muscles back to proper length by holding a position of mild discomfort for 30 seconds, is too little too late.  It doesn’t make sense if you think about it really.

Before we go any further, it’s important that we have an understanding of what static stretching entails:

  • Static stretching involves stretching a muscle (or group of muscles) to the farthest point and then maintaining or holding that posture.

Not a horrible definition, uh?  Sounds like static stretching could provide some benefit, right?

I do advocate people to statically stretch, especially if you know for sure that certain muscles are short and tight.  However, with that being said, I also remind folks that static stretching is just a tool and should be treated as such.  It’s not the end all be all.  Use it when it’s needed, don’t when it’s not.

—>  Change the density of the muscle, then change the length.

At this point in time, I still advocate smashing the muscles down with a foam roller or a ball of some kind, followed by a controlled/technique conscious effort to change the length of the muscle that you just smashed.  Smashing is my slang terminology for “massage”.  So, we are going to change the density of the muscle and attempt to decrease the activity of overactive areas (aka:  trigger points, knots) prior to increasing the length of it.

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Foam rolling the IT band

—>  Trade time for breath.

But instead of holding for time, which you are more than welcome to do, I have changed my approach.  I now hold static stretches for breath counts.  Many of my notoriously tight areas I will hold for 10+ breaths.  I have actually worked up to 20-30+ breaths in some areas.  Deep breathing is something that we are supposed to be doing anyways while stretching statically.

Calming our system and relaxing into stretch.

I have also found that most people confuse what “mild discomfort” means when stretching. Mild discomfort means… mild discomfort.  Not stretching to the max, shaking like a leaf, causing the body to increase tension.

—>  Setting up for the breath based stretch.

When you settle down into a stretch, your threshold of the initial stretching position should be determined by any changes in your breathing to get into that position.  Meaning, if you breath changes drastically, to the point where you aren’t breathing naturally because the stretch is so intense, you’ve overstepped your boundaries.  Find the point of mild-discomfort in your stretch where your breathing can remain deep and controlled, and other muscles around your body can also remained relaxed.  If you want to call it a “sweet spot”, feel free to do so.

Settle into the stretch by inhaling and pushing the air deep into the pelvic floor of your tummy, and exhaling by forcing air out from the deep well of your stomach.  In deep, out deep.  I always breath through my nose, envision the air bypassing my chest on its way down to the stomach, where it will inflate your abdominal region like a balloon.

As you exhale sink deeper into the stretch.  Once you’ve reached a discomfort of the stretch, start the next inhalation deep into your stomach.  Repeat the exhalation process.

Westerners are chest breathers.  We leave a lot on the table by stopping our inhalations short of our pelvic area.  It’s like having 14 gallon gas tank and only putting 7 gallons in it when you fill up.

Next time you are in from of a mirror, take a deep breath and watch your mid-section.  What expands as you inhale?  Look closely.

I bet it is your chest.

Is it?  Did you even look?  Get up and go look right now.

I had to re-train my breathing patterns, so again, don’t feel bad about yourself.  Once I started breathing correctly (or at least better than I was) I relieved a lot of tension that I had built up around my neck and upper traps.  For quite some time, I thought that that the tension was from my workouts, but now I think I was clinching my jaw throughout the day and breathing shallow.  The tension dissipated significantly over time and hasn’t been back since.

Breathing mechanics has become a major player to unlock range of motion and other restrictions during movement.  It gives us valuable feedback when assessing our movement.  When a person becomes short on breath or stops breathing during a movement pattern, that’s a stress response.  Something isn’t jiving.  The body is saying… “Oh shit, not sure if I can do this”.

This response is seen a lot when people attempt the deep squat, inline lunge or the rotational stability tests (shown below)…

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Same leg, same arm.  A lot harder than it looks.

—>  Fastest closing thoughts ever.

Many of us are chest breathers… “straw breathers”.

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“Straw Breather”

Don’t be a straw breather.

Breath controls more than you think.

Cheers to the breath and the stretch!

KG

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