The nose is for breathing. The mouth is for eating.
The way we breathe will affect the state we are in:
Nasal breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest).
Mouth breathing stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight).
Diaphragmatic breathing results in greater spinal stabilization (because you are activating your core). Chest breathing is a sign there is an underlying stability issue.
If you think of your core as a can of soda, then the diaphragm forms the top of the can. The pelvic floor forms the bottom of the can. The TVA (transverse abs) forms the sides of the can. The TVA is your deep core muscle and your body's primary stabilizer.
The pelvic floor functions rhythmically with your diaphragm.
I want to make sure you know how to use your breath to help you activate your core, so you can bring this functionality into your training and life. To facilitate activation of the TVA, exhale through your nose. You will feel your TVA tightening up like a corset. Whenever I initiate a difficult move, I exhale through my nose to ensure my TVA is activating. For example, when I do a pilates roll-up, I exhale through my nose as I roll up.
Nasal breathing isn't just having air travel in and out of your nose. I want you to feel the core (TVA) connection to your inhalations and exhalations. Can you actually feel the TVA cinching in like a corset when you exhale, and expanding when you inhale?
Here's how to to do diaphragmatic breathing:
Lie on your back with your knees bent, arms at your sides. Head resting on floor. Keep your neck and face relaxed.
Inhale through your nose, and envision this air travelling all the way down to your diaphragm. Your diaphragm will move downwards so your lungs can expand with air. You will see your low belly rise (make a fat stomach on purpose ... it will look convex and will expand 360 degrees). Pretend your upper chest is paralyzed, so only the low belly rises. Your chest and shoulders should not rise (i.e. no chest breathing).
Activate your pelvic floor and exhale through your nose. You will see your low belly fall (your low belly will look concave). When you do this, your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward which forces air out of your lungs. The TVA will feel like a corset that is being tightened around your waist. As you exhale, you will feel your pelvic floor moving upwards and your TVA cinching inwards. If all of this confuses you, then fake doing a COUGH or SNEEZE and notice how the pelvic floor magically moves upwards and how your TVA cinches in! Cool, eh?
Now put the sequence together. This is how to breathe! You can do this in any position. Do it when you exercise! Do it all the time! It will change your life!
I provided a video to take you through the steps of Diaphragmatic Breathing. Do it!
The pelvic floor muscles are important for:
When training, I want you to activate your pelvic floor muscles. I call these the "pee pee kaka" muscles in the video workouts. To activate your pelvic floor muscles: pretend you are trying to suck a tampon up deeper and deeper into your vaginal canal. Or pull up inside as if you were stopping your pee pee and poo poo from exiting your body.
If you suffer from urinary incontinence when you jump rope or perform heavy deadlifts, this is a sign your pelvic floor muscles are weak. You can rectify this with "vaginal weightlifting".
Your pelvic floor muscles are muscles. That means they can be strengthened exactly like other muscles in the body. Next time you are in the bath tub/shower, insert 2 fingers into your vaginal canal, and try to squeeze just the right finger, and then try to squeeze just the left finger. Then try squeezing both fingers and hold. Repeat for 10 reps. Can you control your left and right sides independently?
For more information on this, please watch my youtube video:
Chest breathing is what we want to avoid.
Chest breathing activates the SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System). If you chest breathe, your neck, shoulders and face will tense up. It will lock your t-spine (this will cause the lumbar spine to flex/extend and it will also decrease your shoulder mobility). This will instantly make it harder to use your glutes. It disengages the core (bye bye core stabilization), glutes, pelvic floor, quads and hamstrings. So you’ll default to compensatory movement patterns that can ultimately cause injury. Once you chest breathe, it’s pretty much game over. You can’t sustain this… you tank out faster.
Keep your neck and face relaxed when you move. If you tense up, you will lose core and glute engagement.
Don't hold your breathe. Take a look at the photo below to see how this can cause bearing-down on the pelvic floor (which can lead to urinary incontinence and other pelvic floor dysfunction).
For isometric holds: Breathe evenly and calmly in and out through your nose. Connect your breath to your core.
For concentric movements: Exhale through your nose and activate your TVA. You will feel your TVA tightening up like a corset.
For eccentric movements: Inhale through your nose
It's not a rule set in stone to exhale on the concentric and inhale on the eccentric. I like to exhale during the most difficult part of an exercise (as this really helps me fire my TVA). So feel free to experiment.
Intensity in Flow:
In the workouts, I ask you to push the intensity, but to maintain nasal breathing. Why?
Nasal breathing forces you to be aware so you don’t freak out when you are doing the workouts (it controls the freak out). It forces you to connect with your body so you don't disengage. It will help you get mentally tougher.
Nasal breathing doesn’t mean going easy, it doesn’t mean pacing through a workout. Mouth breathing on the other hand has its time and place but that isn’t every day. Constantly mouth breathing during conditioning will drive you into a flight state, and you won’t want to be in the workout (so you won’t hunt the workout). Rather, the workout will hunt you and kill you.
For the home workouts, I want you to find "flow under pressure" or "intensity in flow" or "intensity under control". This means you are "flirting with the fight state", which is where the magic happens. Nasal breathing lets you control the flow and have a little bit of fight without the fight bringing the stress it normally brings. This allows you to win the workout, instead of freaking out and going into a flight state. But once again, that doesn't mean you pace, or else you lose your progress. Still go hard, just not so extra hard that you kill yourself.
If you are on the floor dying after every workout: you are losing every single workout. You are in a flight state and this will make you quit. You need to win your workouts. Gains come from winning, not losing. Nasal breathing teaches you how to win.
Note: The difference between Fight and Flight is wanting to be there versus not wanting to be there.
Nasal breathing prevents you from breaking … it prevents stress/anxiety. Once you switch mouth breathing, it’s freak out mode, and this puts you in a FLIGHT state. Mouth breathing is for when "the bear is coming". If the bear is coming to get you every single day you train, eventually you will die. Mouth breathing puts you in stressed out mode (flight mode), releases cortisol (eats your gains). Training like this is fine once every 6 weeks.
To burn fat: that means doing "FLOW UNDER PRESSURE WORKOUTS": nasal breathing with an exercise that puts you in a FIGHT state. You need both to burn fat (nasal breathing & a fight state … it’s an arch).
Remember: We are built for intent. So if you attack the 10 minute home workout, you’ll burn fat. But if you do 30 minutes of cardio and you don’t want to be there (flight state), this will promote water weight gain (cortisol) and you'll activate the fat gain mechanism.
During the workouts: just slow down and calm down if you feel you are going to switch to mouth breathing.
Goals: be happy with your performance. Do productive work. Attack the session. Win the workout. Prioritize long-term value over short-term reward.
Note: Nasal breathing doesn’t mean just nose breathing. You can inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips, but try to do all nasal. Do it for conditioning and lifting.
Nasal Breathing Tips:
As my training becomes more intense, I smile to open up my nostrils (to optimize my inhalation). Did you know you can improve your nasal inhalation by smiling like the Joker from Batman (this flares the nostrils)? Here are my 2 other pro tips: inhale upwards towards the top of your skull (not backwards), and inhale gently (not aggressively or else you close your nostrils).
Note: mobility refers to your active range of motion (i.e. how far you can move your joint with muscular control). Flexibility, however, refers to your passive range of motion (i.e. how far your joint can be moved, regardless of muscular control).
How do you know what your true mobility is? It's easy to figure out because breathing and mobility are related.
Inhaling (through your nose) is related to mobility. You cannot inhale past your mobility. This gives you feedback when your mobility ends. This means you can create your own standards for movement. If you move past your ability to inhale, then you are no longer engaging the correct muscles.
Should you squat "ass to grass"? Not unless you have the mobility to do so. I recommend you squat within your mobility (unless you want to hurt yourself). So for example, when you are descending into a squat, inhale through your nose. The moment you can no longer inhale is when you stop descending into your squat. That is your official squat bottom position ... it represents your true mobility. If you were to descend any lower, it would mess up your breathing and you would lose engagement of your TVA (and you would end up butt winking). Exhale through your nose when you stand back up.
So how do you improve your mobility? If you lack core structure and stability, then you will struggle to increase your mobility. The reason why I can do the splits ... it's because I spent a lot of time building my core structure and improving my spinal stability. If you are "Pelvis Presley" (i.e. you cannot stabilize and your pelvis moves all over the place), then other muscles (e.g. hip flexors, hamstrings) will tense up to compensate (to provide you with stability), which explains why your hip mobility is restricted. I truly believe the core is the one area that is always overlooked, and yet, it's where all the problems arise. That's why I ask you to do the 30-minute Pilates routine every Saturday. I always say, "proximal stability for distal mobility"!
Note that you cannot build mobility on an imbalanced body. If you want to get very serious about correcting muscle imbalances that cause pain and tightness, I recommend you join my Strength Academy.