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Do you breathe with your chest?

Breathing should be looked at as a MOVEMENT PATTERN.


We take breathing for granted. On average, we breathe 14 times every minute, more than 20,000 times a day which totals to over 500 million times during the course of an average lifetime.1 Given those numbers, we should all be great at it right? FALSE, most of us are terrible at it.

Proper Breathing Biomechanics1


The diaphragm is a muscle that is dome-shaped in a relaxed state. It separates the chest and abdominal cavities.

During INHALATION, the diaphragm contracts, increasing space in the chest cavity, causing the lungs to expand and air to enter. In other words, the diaphragm acts a plunger, drawing air into your lungs. The intercostals (accessory breathing muscles between your ribs) create more space by pulling your ribs up and out. Don’t focus on pushing out the abdomen!


During EXHALATION, the diaphragm and intercostalsrelax, forcing the air out. 



Postural habits and chronic stress have caused many of our diaphragms to remain contracted. Consequently, we have started relying on the secondary breathing muscles (interscostals, sternoceidomastoid, scalenes, pectorals, etc.). Over-activation of the neck flexors can lead to cervical spine degeneration. You should have a 2:1 ratio between flexors/extensors. This ratio is reversed in chest breathers. “Chest Breathing” won’t kill you because we only need 20% of the oxygen we breathe in. However, chest breathing elicits a danger (“fight-or-flight”) response.


Constantly utilizing this less efficient breathing pattern will release stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline), cause hypertension and irritability, etc. Retraining diaphragmatic “slow” breathing can enhance parasympathetic (“rest & digest” response) tone, decrease sympathetic nervous activity, improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, decrease the effects of stress, and improve physical & mental health.