Almost as divisive as proper squat form, how to properly recovery breathe is highly debated. What’s our preference? We like the form pictured above - hands on knees and bent over. I know, I know - you’ve been told by many high school coaches and possibly some personal trainers to breathe with your hands over your heads because it “opens your lungs”. It turns out bending over is a much more efficient plan.
Let’s start with the basics, your diaphragm is your primary muscle of respiration. It is located in the bottom part of the ribcage and attaches to the backside of your lower ribcage and the front of your lumbar (lower back) spine. It is a domed muscle that contracts and flattens when you inhale. The flattening of the muscle creates a vacuum in the thorax and pulls air into the lungs. The diaphragm then reflexively coils back into its domed shape which pushes air out of the thorax. We also have accessory respiratory muscles that should only be used when one is breathing hard like after a run or sprint. Some of these muscles are the pecs, upper traps, and sternocleidomastoids - basically the muscles of your chest, neck, and shoulders. They help to increase the circumference of the thorax and take in air more rapidly than the diaphragm can alone.
By bending forward and anchoring your arms on your legs you’re placing many muscles in a position where they are better leveraged to work. You can now use your pecs to help lift and widen the ribcage, your abs to help expel air more fully, and you’ve opened up your upper back (known as the posterior mediastinum) for air to flow into more easily. Additionally, the forwardly bent position of the spine helps to keep the bottom of the ribcage more narrow. This assists the diaphragm in returning to it’s fully domed state with each breath. It also makes it much more difficulty to “belly breathe” - the air is essentially forced into the thoracic cage.
When one stands up and places their hands over their heads, it significantly the actions above to occur. The pecs and shoulder muscles no longer have leverage to help move the ribcage; The neck muscles have to do the lion’s share. The abs are then moved into an elongated position and can no longer help to push air out of the thorax. As the abdomen is positionally opened, it becomes much easier to belly breathe and not get as much air into the lung tissue. It also disallows the diaphragm from fully returning to its domed position and less air is exchanged with each breath.
Written by Lesley Callaham on August 8, 2018