This post is pretty sciencey. If that’s not your scene just scroll down and check out the videos of the breathing drills so you can start implementing them into your (or your athletes’) warm-ups today!
I think to start this post off it’s important to outline some principles of good movement. First off, in the context of movement, I want to discuss specifically one particular word: stiffness. I think that we inherently think of stiffness as a bad thing. However, we can’t have good movement unless we have good stiffness in the right places. Essentially, we need to be able to produce good stiffness in the right places in order to relax (and not have bad stiffness) in others.
The joint by joint rule is a good rule of thumb. The stiffness in one area will impact movement at the adjacent joints. Essentially one joint can throw another one under the bus. Examples of this include:
- Excessive stiffness at the ankle leads to knee hypermobility
- Bad stiffness in the hips leads to excessive movement through the low back
- Poor scapular movement on the rib cage leads to excessive anterior glenohumeral motion
On the flip side good stiffness impacts the movement at the adjacent joints in a positive way (I’ll use a pitching example)
- Good stiffness in the anterior core allows for t-spine extension -> allows for scapular upward rotation and posterior tilt -> allows for the rotator cuff to stabilize the head of the humerus in the glenoid and resist excessive anterior glide during layback
This topic is incredibly extensive, but for today’s post I want to highlight why I love to use positional breathing drills to get the ball rolling to create good movement in place of faulty patterns.
First and foremost: deep, full exhalations in good positions can help reduce bad stiffness while also establishing good stiffness in the right places. Breathing drills are great for teaching people the positions they need to be in, as well as turning off supplementary respiratory muscles (lats, scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, pec minor to name a few). They’re also great for getting people into neutral.
*This differs person to person – but for someone who hangs out in a heavy extension pattern (which is extremely common in the overhead athlete population) it’s important to get them back to neutral (and even into a little bit of flexion – as you’ll see when you get to the different videos)
As an aside (since this post is specifically for pitchers) – this holds true for the population at the opposite end of the spectrum (think desk jockeys, plumbers, roofers, etc.) It’s fairly common for these folks to be unable to even achieve full hip extension, in addition to having poor thoracic spine extension. When you give these people a little bit of extension in their lives they’re overall movement quality can be significantly impacted in a positive way.
Ok – back to why breathing drills are important for pitchers. We need to talk about the zone of apposition (ZOA). The ZOA is a fancy name for the area where the diaphragm can expand up into the rib cage. Overly extended posture can impact the ZOA in a negative way which essentially makes it harder to get air in. If it’s tougher to get air in it makes those other supplementary respiratory muscles we talked about earlier (lats, scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, pec minor) work harder.
If those other muscles are having to constantly work harder they will become chronically stiff and it will become very difficult for an athlete to turn them off. If a pitcher can’t turn off their lats and pec minor it’s going to be a difficult uphill battle to create good stiffness in the low traps and serratus anterior in order to get good upward rotation to get into an optimal position overhead – leading to poor ball in socket congruency at the glenohumeral joint when they go to throw a baseball – thus increasing their risk of injury (the rotator cuff is going to have to work harder to keep the ball centred in the socket which will have additional negative consequences at the elbow joint) due to this aberrant movement pattern.
I could go on and on!! But I won’t. Here are my five go to breathing drills for pitchers.
- Pitcher’s Breathing
2. All Fours Focused Breathing
3. Lat Hang Focused Breathing – Feet Slightly Elevated
4. Short-Seated Focused Breathing With 2-Arm Reach
5. Supine 90/90 Focused Breathing With Hip Lift