Kevin Neeld — Hockey Training, Sports Performance, & Sports Science

The Truth About Breathing Exercises

About a year ago I started incorporating more breathing exercises into the training programs of our athletes. One of the major goals of these exercises is to facilitate proper diaphragm function.

Chicks dig guys with proper diaphragm function.

Specific to breathing, the diaphragm allows for more complete lung expansion. If you look at the image above, you can see that the diaphragm moving downward and the chest expanding upward and outward both allow for lung expansion. If the diaphragm isn’t functioning correctly (insufficient magnitude or unideal timing of contraction, restricted length or poor positioning, etc.), you can imagine that the body would naturally attempt to compensate by elevating the ribs to a greater extent to allow more room for the lungs to expand and ultimately for oxygen to be inhaled. In this regard, restoring proper diaphragm function can take some stress off of these muscles, which become overworked/stressed as they’re under more constant tension to elevate the rib cage.

The theory is that activating the diaphragm in a controlled environment will translate to improved activation/performance of the muscle in more dynamic situations. This is similar to the concept of activating the glutes during isolated/controlled movements such as glute bridges  or wall march holds with the intention of restoring proper firing patterns during more dynamic movements like doing sprints or deadlifts. While this transfer can be questioned, I don’t see how including these exercises (in either example) can hurt, and believe that teaching the body how to activate specific muscles in a conscious, isolated fashion will improve the likelihood that the muscle will function properly in more integrated situations.

Last week I had an opportunity to watch Sue Falsone’s presentation on the thoracic spine that’s available at Body By Boyle Online (click this link or the image below for more information on the site!).

Sue is the Director of Physical Therapy for Athletes Performance and was the first ever female physical therapist for a major league baseball team (Los Angelas Dodgers). In her presentation, she brought up a great point about the purpose and function of diaphragm breathing exercises.

Check out a sample breathing exercise from my friend Carson Boddicker:

As you know, if there is some limitation in a joint the surrounding muscles will necessarily be affected. Charlie Weingroff talks a lot about this. Joints must have mobility before they can have stability. To expand on that idea slightly, joints must have mobility before the surrounding muscles can function properly. In this regard, Sue mentioned that one of the major purposes of diaphragm breathing exercises is to improve the mobility of the lower ribs. If the lower ribs can’t expand laterally, it’s improbable that the diaphragm will function ideally. Viewed this way, diaphragm breathing is just another mobility exercise, ensuring proper range of motion and giving the surrounding muscles the best opportunity to function optimally.

To your success,

Kevin Neeld

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Kevin Neeld

Kevin Neeld Knows Hockey

Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.