The Foundational Breathing Method works by utilizing the body’s mechanical advantage of core stability during diaphragmatic breathing and its effects on oxygen uptake. To better understand this and more efficiently apply these concepts, you need to know the anatomy of the core musculature and how it ties into the movement.
The main muscles involved in diaphragmatic breathing can be grouped together and referred to as The Intrinsic Core Subsystem. It’s named this because it consists of the deep muscles of your abdominal cavity. These muscles are generally considered to be: the diaphragm, the transverse abdominis, the pelvic floor, and the deep spinal stabilizers (multfidi, rotares, psoas, etc.). These muscles form a “canister” that helps to create intra-abdominal pressure and stabilize the spine. The stability that these muscles provide forms the base of almost every movement that your body can produce.
Traditionally, when speaking of intra-abdominal pressure and athletic performance, most academics cite its use in weightlifting and other single effort events. Rarely has its role been considered outside of short, max-effort bouts, such as a deadlift or shotput. This is because it has generally been studied in relation to the Valsalva Maneuver, which requires a breath hold to spike and maximize intra-abdominal pressure. However when properly taught, you can create intra-abdominal pressure by utilizing the activation of your abdominal wall from your diaphragmatic breath. This activation can then be maintained throughout the activity so long as the system, your body, has been conditioned properly. This activation is commonly termed as “bracing.”
Even at low levels, intra-abdominal pressure increases core stability and the firing patterns of the Intrinsic System. What we aim to do with the Foundational Breathing Method (FBM) is to teach you how to complete full breath cycles while maintaining a constant brace (we also refer to this as creating tension) and appropriate levels of intra-abdominal pressure. This means that your canister should feel tension throughout your breath. So after you learn how to diaphragmatically breathe with the 90/90 or our breathing drill you learned in Phase 1, we then utilize our 90/90 Unsupported Breathing Drill to teach you how to breathe through the pressure. As you get stronger and more practiced, you will find that it will take very little effort to create abdominal wall tension and you will easily be able to breathe through it in almost any position.
Many have questioned us about the more popular belly-button pull in cue, or “hollowing” as it’s traditionally termed, and how the FBM approach differs for engaging the abdominals. The important thing to understand is that because of the intra-abdominal pressure, we are getting 360 degrees of activation of the Intrinsic Core Subsytem. This also helps to recruit the outer layers of abdominal muscles, such as the obliques and rectus abdominis. With the belly-button pull in method you are actually only activating one muscle, the transverse abdominis, and you are also cutting off other muscles that should be stabilizing your core. Yes, you read that right, the belly-button pull in method limits your abilities. In his book, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, Dr. Stuart McGill clearly shows the difference in recruitment patterns and notes the inactivity in abdominal tissue while pulling the belly-button in (2). Even Dr. McGill, the world’s leading spine biomechanist, insists on utilizing bracing of the abdominal wall, such as the Foundational Breathing Method, rather than pulling the belly-button in.
To compound this point, the belly-button pull in method also prevents a full breath from being taken in. When the abdomen remains braced, as we teach in the Foundational Breathing Method, you should almost be able to get a full breath. When there is hollowing, the diaphragm cannot mechanically reach its full range of motion. This is going to force accessory breathing muscles to be recruited. Our accessory breathing muscles consist of the pec minor, the scalenes, and several other muscles of the neck and shoulders. Many of these muscles also assist in elevating and downwardly rotating the shoulders, as well as pushing the head forwards. For this reason, having them more active in breathing will also result in a negative impact on your mechanics and could increase the likelihood of injury.
In times of very acute stress or when extreme ventilation is needed (think all-out sprints), your accessory breathers will need to be recruited and deep diaphragmatic breathing will be near impossible. However this state is rare in most athletic competitions, especially for a properly trained and conditioned athlete. This is why learning, practicing, and strengthening the breath, then properly conditioning the body, is so crucial. A poorly conditioned athlete will not be able to maintain a proper breath or keep their efficiency during dynamic movement. In fact if the nervous system is in a state of over-stress or if there are mechanical deficiencies, it will be hard for you to fully access a true diaphragmatic breath. For more on this, look into the trouble shooting section.
1) Intrinsic Stabilization Subsystem (ISS). (2017, January 09). Retrieved August 01, 2017, from https://brentbrookbush.com/articles/corrective-exercise-articles/core-subsystems/intrinsic-stabilization-subsystem/
2) McGill, S. (2017). Ultimate back fitness and performance. Gravenhurst, Ontario: Backfitpro Inc.