A couple of weeks ago I began working with a client with a mixed bag of upper body dysfunction, mainly throughout the shoulders.  I won’t go into the details beyond the typical upper crossed syndrome which is caused  by spending a lifetime in the forward flexed and seated position.  This is where the upper traps become tight elevating the scapula and the pecs become tight rounding the shoulders forward.  Conversely, the shoulder stabilizers and neck flexors become weakened.

This pattern is very typical among those who work long hours at a desk and don’t do proper posterior exercises at the gym.  If left untreated for too long, this will begin to cause a chain reaction of symptoms throughout your body and increase your risk of injury (mainly in the shoulders in the form or rotator cuff tears and pulls).

In order to relieve some of the tension in his upper traps and to alleviate some of the pain, I hit the books and started doing a little research.  What I came across was a few articles on breathing patterns and upper respiratory dysfunction that got me thinking.  

Breathing is not something that most people think about very frequently as it something we do on the regular (kinda need it to live).  What I found was that the way we breathe not only affects sports performance but greatly impacts our health as well.

Take a deep breath Michael Phelps....there ya go.

Faulty breathing patterns can in fact lead to a gamut of health and movement dysfunctions including things like TMJ, poor cervical control, poor pelvic control, poor coor function, postural issues, upper respiratory diseases, and a weakened core. 

An easy test to see if you have a healthy breathing pattern is to sit tall in your chair with one hand over your stomach and one hand over your chest.  Take in one deep breath.  Does your chest or your stomach expand?  If your chest elevates and expands then you may have a faulty breathing pattern.  In a proper breathing pattern, the hand on your stomach should move first and the hand on your chest should rise minimally.  Here is a quick video demonstration here.

Left alone this may become serious as it puts an unnecessary load on your heart and forces it to work harder than it has to.  It also tightenes up the muscles in your upper shoulders and traps which may be the root of your chronic neck pain.

A great corrective exercise for “chest breathers” to encourage respiration without going into the upper trap, scalene, and pec minor is to sit tall in a chair with your ams on the rests and take deep breaths.  Try to focus on not elevating your chest or shoulders and by expanding your stomach first then expanding the ribcage if necessary. 

I am going to cut myself off there for today but I’m glad to answer any questions on breathing exercises or progressions.


Written by Steve