[alert type=”info” close=”false”] When I’m training people in a one-on-one or small group setting, opportunities to discuss the why behind the decision to include certain exercises in the program or how they relate to life and/or circus come up all the time. These weekly lessons are intended to provide those key pieces of information and explanation that make the training plan make sense.

The distinction I would like to make is that what we are doing here is training—not just working out. There’s method to the madness and these weekly lessons are intended to show just that. [/alert]

Before each workout–before you run or begin doing any significant moving around–take 45 seconds to do a round of 90/90 Belly Breathing.

90/90 Belly Breathing

Begin by lying on your back, close enough to a wall or bench so that you can lie with your feet against the wall with your knees and hips bent to 90 degrees.

Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Take a couple of breaths to focus on having your stomach rise first, expanding up and out to the sides (a 360-degree breath, if you will). We’re aiming for little to no movement of your chest.

The thing to notice here is how easily—or not—you can shift the emphasis of your breathing to your abdomen…without needing to breathe into your chest.

Once you’ve got that, breathe in through your nose and exhale forcefully through your mouth. If you happen to have a straw, you could use it here. For those who don’t carry a straw around with them, purse your lips (and pretend you have a straw) and blow out all of the air in your lungs.

The trick to doing this is to forcefully exhale and use your pursed lips as resistance, so to speak.

Notice the way this reflexively contracts your core and locks your ribs down, closer to the top of your pelvis. This is your ‘neutral’ rib position.

I’ve noticed that about half of the people I’ve taught this exercise to have some trouble getting their ribs to go down—at first. If this is you, don’t worry. It just takes some time for the muscles that lift—and hold—your ribs up to get the message that they’re allowed to settle down.

The relevant background science is related to your nervous system—specifically the unconscious part of your nervous system. Basically, we have the “fight or flight” side (your sympathetic nervous system) and the “rest and digest” side (your parasympathetic nervous system).

Our day-to-day lives tend to shift the needle more into “fight or flight” and it can be surprisingly easy to end up living on this end of the dial, so to speak, more often than not. In practice, what they ends up meaning is that the muscles that lift your ribcage (which include some neck muscles) become so accustomed to be ‘on’ that it’s difficult (at first) to get them to settle down. This exercise serves as a bit of a “nervous system reset”, which will make that process easier.

Now, press your legs into the wall/matt/bench and lift your butt about two inches off the floor. Hold it there for 5 full breaths.

Lower your butt back to the floor and do one more full breath.


Beyond the warm-up

From here on out, the goal is for your breath—in particular, your exhale—to become a tool that you can use. When you are working through a tough set of a particular exercise and you feel like it’s getting harder and harder to maintain good form, you can take a breath and regain some degree of control.

When you’re training on your apparatus—or even (especially) when you’re performing—and you’re beginning to fatigue, you can use your breath to tap into reserves of energy and control.

And perhaps most importantly, your breath—especially when you do a forceful exhale through pursed lips—will help to ‘remind’ your body about how to control your spinal position by encouraging your ribs to shift down into ‘neutral’.