Current Experimentations – Part 4: Maximal Expansive Breathing

7 Mar

Current Experimentations – Part 4: Maximal Expansive Breathing


WHAT: Maximal Expansive Breathing (MEB) is training for your respiratory muscles (namely the diaphragm). You know those 90/90 hip mobility drills we do where you cramp up during the isometric contractions (called PAILs and RAILs)? Well MEB is like PAILs and RAILs for your diaphragm (and other respiratory muscles). Just like any other muscle, the diaphragm can be trained in the maximally shortened position and in the maximally lengthened position, and when you hold your breath, that is isometric training for your diaphragm. Also, just like any other muscle or position, breathing is subject to the law of specificity…you have to train breathing in every position in order to optimize your ability to do it.

WHY: I’ll just give you the thoughts and questions running through my brain in regards to MEB:

  • If I strengthen my diaphragm, then breathing in a certain amount of air (such as at rest) becomes easier and my respiratory rate can decrease…in other words, achieving a certain result at a lower physiological cost. That’s a WIN.
  • In the opposite situation, such as during maximal exertion, by strengthening my diaphragm I am now able to intake more air which would make more oxygen available to my working muscles which would enable me to perform harder for longer before needing to rest. Another WIN.
  • Related to the previous post, during maximal exertion, when I eventually do have to rest, now my recovery is enhanced because of the increased performance of my respiratory system which means I am ready for the next round sooner or in the case of a fixed rest period I will have recovered more than I would have previously. Either way you look at it, another WIN.
  • Finally, I have to believe that this would also positively impact my sleep. If my body becomes more efficient at breathing…as mentioned above, achieving a certain result (in this case, one breath) at a lower physiological cost (my body doesn’t have to work as hard to do it)…could that possibly allow for deeper and more restful sleep because my body isn’t working as hard to breathe during sleep? Given the fact that I have a 6-month old daughter and a small business that opens at 5:30am every morning, this sleep component is of GREAT interest to me.

HOW: Let’s simplify this as much as possible. There are two actions that we are interested in…the inhale and the exhale. Take a look at this .gif to see the diaphragm in action during inhalation and exhalation:

Again, to simplify, when the diaphragm contracts (or moves down in the above animation), that expands the lungs which causes the pressure inside the lungs to decrease and outside air is pulled in to normalize the pressure (an inhale). When the diaphragm relaxes (or moves up in the above animation), the lungs compress which causes the pressure inside the lungs to increase and inside air is forced out to normalize the pressure (an exhale).

We can focus our training just on the inhale (maximal inhalation) with a reflexive exhale. We can focus just on the exhalation (maximal exhalation) with a reflexive inhale. Or we can focus on both…maximal inhalation and maximal exhalation.

  1. Maximal Inhalation, Reflexive Exhalation (breath hold after final maximal inhale)
  2. Reflexive Inhalation, Maximal Exhalation (breath hold after final maximal exhale)
  3. Maximal Inhalation, Maximal Exhalation

My barometer for success is how long I can hold my breath. If my times go up, I must have gotten better. Surprisingly, on my very first attempt, I could hold my breath for 2 minutes after a maximal inhale. I would’ve guessed closer to 1 minute. Not surprisingly, after a maximal exhale, I could only hold my breath for about 30 seconds. While my PR is now over 3 minutes (3:05 to be exact) on the max inhale and about 50 seconds on the max exhale, I still need to focus on being more consistent (in other words, EVERY DAMN DAY) to truly be able to draw accurate conclusions about the thoughts/questions listed above.



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