Why The Balloons?
For the past month I have had my clients blowing up a ton of balloons. Although some just go with the flow, others ask – Why the hell are we doing this?!
I want to start by saying that the body is very complex. There is a ton of stuff that I don’t understand. And in fact the more I learn the more I realize we (humans) still have a lot more to learn.
What I do know, based on dealing with clients is that many have similar issues. Often I see clients that are either resting in an overextended “posture” or as they need to create stability they resort to an overextension “posture” to find strength.
I put quotation marks around the word “posture” because typically we think of posture as something we are either stuck in or something to achieve for good health. Like when your Grandma said to stand up straight and puff up your chest.
Early on I assumed posture was something that you could change by strengthening certain muscles and stretching others. I now believe that was the wrong approach.
I’ve come to learn that our “posture” is effected by a combination of all our senses interpretations of our environments. Our brain is astonishingly powerful and complex. It’s constantly running in the background trying to predict the future through algorithms based on our past experiences. Check out the video below for a great example of this in a fantastic Aussie accent!
Ok so what the hell do balloons have to do with posture, pain or making me look better naked.
Hold on I’m getting there.
From what we/I understand now, posture is more of a reflexion of the state of our brains computations. This is very evident in our ribcage. Anxiety, stress, threat can result in hyperventilation. Take a huge breath in and notice how your ribs open up. If you want and example of the effect of hyperventilation – grab a heart rate monitor. Go lay on your back and bend your knees, exhale and check your HR. Then start taking deep breaths, arch your back and open your ribs up. Re-test your heart rate.
Just arching my back and taking a big breath in elevated my HR by 12 BPM. Why? I didn’t do any more work, just chillaxin, stationary on the floor. Some/most people are in an over inflated, arched posture throughout their life. This is a Sympathetic Nervous System dominant state of posture (fight or flight).
Sympathetic dominance can drive hyperventilation or wait can hyperventilation drive Sympathetic dominance?
We do know that a Sympathetic dominance isn’t great for things like pain relief, blood pressure,learning, mood, etc.
I just happened to find this study while researching this article. If there was ever a more important scientific study on the human body I would like to see it.
Basically they studied different postures, heart rates and states of Autonomic Nervous System balance throughout the phases of menstrual cycles in healthy women.
Some women during reproductive years may experience some physical,psychological and behavioral symptoms which occur in late luteal phase of menstrual cycle termed as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and in severe case termed as premenstrual dysphoric
disorder (PMDD)4. However, altered functioning of autonomic nervous system in late luteal phase may be responsible for this PMS or in sever case PMDD in eumenorrhic women.
From the result of the study, it can be concluded that parasympathetic activity was decreased in Parasympathetic function in menstrual cycle late luteal phase in comparison to follicular phase of menstrual cycle.
Since I didn’t mention it above, Parasympathetic is almost the exact opposite of the Sympathetic Nervous System. While one is in charge of fight or flight the other’s role is rest and digest. So with that in mind it turns out that women are typically in fight or flight during PMS. To which every guys says.
Ok so now that I have pissed off nearly all of my women readers let’s get back to why we use balloons. The balloon is just a way to challenge your exhale. Think of it as a Thighmaster for your diaphragm. As we learn to exhale better and inhale correctly a lot of cool stuff happens.
Like joints start to move better.
This is a big deal. Traditionally someone would have tried to stretch for months and months to achieve this internal rotation of the shoulder. But all they would have done is create a pathology, a joint laxity in an already unstable joint. Which could have resulted in more shoulder problems. Turns out it wasn’t a tightness problem, it was a rib position problem.
Your resting heart rate goes down
Exhaling helps to restore more Parasympathetic activity. From the study above, they showed women typically had a higher HR and lower level of Parasympathetic activity during that special time of the month.
Now we can’t be sure that blowing up a balloon had anything to do with a significant drop in HR for Missi over the course of the month since we didn’t do any kind of scientific study. We also don’t know if it effected her PMS this month. For that we should ask her husband, Mike.
She’s also been following the Whole30 diet this months so nutrition could have very well played a role in this drop as well. Or maybe she started meditating. Maybe the moon, stars and sun aligned. Who know for sure.
I do know one thing though. Her Push-ups just recently have started looking a lot F#@&%!* better! I don’t have her before video but I can tell you that she constantly shrugged and used her neck. Previously she lost her ribcage position and arched her back while doing Push-ups from the floor.
What you didn’t see in the video is that now Missi takes her time to set up for the Push-up by doing a deep exhale to set her ribcage (down, back, in). She then takes a breath in through her nose with her ribs in the set position which drives some back expansion. That little dome you see in her back is a result of a good diaphragmatic breath. This allows her shoulder blades a good platform to perform a push up. The opposite of this is what is called Scapular winging.
That’s what happens when the ribcage and stabilizer muscles are in a bad position. This is when you start to excessively use your neck and back muscles to perform exercises.
Ever heard someone say that they store all their stress in their neck?
Well in a roundabout way I guess they do. Stress and/or poor breathing often leads to elevated ribcage position which alters shoulder blade function and then you end up using too much upper trap, and those pesky Levator muscles (back and sides of your neck).
You also have influences deeper down that cause asymmetries in the body. Under the skin our body is NOT symmetrical. We have organs that are placed in different positions which effect individual Lung size and Diaphragm shape on the left and right side. The Diaphragm even has more attachments on one side of the spine than the other which results in a twist everytime we breathe.
Poor breathing drives even more of this twisting and internal asymmetries. For many, many people you will notice a more prominent ribcage on the left side. If you check the angle that the bottom of the ribcage is in, it will usually be at less of an angle than the right side. This means our ribcage is actually open on the left and closed down on the right.
If you look closely at the above picture, his ribcage is not the same from right to left side. Also his pelvis is facing a different direction as his ribcage and his right shoulder is lower than the left. This is all very common (not optimal).
He’s a strong, guy that played college football and is still active. The problem is that he previously had bilateral hip replacement, occasional knee and back pain. Maybe this could have been prevented by being in a better position… who knows for sure now.
In this position the left abs are usually not as effective as the right. We don’t typically use our right lung as much as the left because of the ribs closed down on the right side. Causing accessory muscles in the neck on the right side especially to try and open up the right rib to breathe, which can cause issues all the way up into the jaw (any dentists or hygienists out there?).
How many women out there experience Pelvic Floor issues? Judging on the amount of people I see running to the bathroom after jumping activities I would say it’s a large amount. The relationship between the direction of your diaphragm and pelvic floor matters. Often when you see a flared ribcage, arched back – you will also see a pelvis that is tipped forward.
Exhale your way to better abs!
If you want to minimize the symptoms of those things listed above, you need to learn to exhale! Exhaling helps to kick on deep core stabilizers, the muscles that sit ups just don’t work. Don’t believe me, go get a chest cold and cough repeatedly or drink way too much. Those sore abs you feel are a result of the Internal Obliques and transversus abdominus contracting during that hard, deep exhale.
Instead of getting sick, we can just blow up a balloon to achieve that deep core activation. We can also use other muscles to get those deep core muscles to work better. By positioning the pelvis with Hamstrings we give our Obliques an anchor point to grab onto the ribs and keep them in a better place.
This can explain why Missi’s Push-Up looked so much better. Instead of just using part of her abdominal muscles, she now uses all of them.
For a long time I’ve been coaching a whole butt-load of core exercises. Different Planks, Crunches, ball exercises, bands, etc., with not a ton of success. Many people that started with a weak core typically improved only marginally. Same with shoulder and hip mobility. The mistake I and so many others made was that it wasn’t necessarily a muscle problem it was a position problem.
Get the person in a better position and BAM, a lot of joints and muscles start working better and stronger.
How To Blow Up A Balloon
The ironic thing i’ve found out about getting people to blow up a balloon to reduce stress is that it stresses some people out. Math and English class stressed me out in high school. Someone could make an argument that those were necessary to me not being a complete moron, but at the time I hated them.
I urge you to take your time and practice this. For some it may be difficult at first but it will get easier. For some it may be game changing. If I’m wrong you only wasted a few minutes of your day anyways.
Just as I started this article I want to finish it by reminding everyone – the body is infinitely complex.
The body moving better and getting stronger isn’t always a result of going hard in the gym. Also, the body losing excess fat isn’t always the result of going hard in the gym. Calories in / Calories out is a very short sighted view of the complexity of our bodies.
The 5 minutes we spend breathing could reap many more results in our performance and well being than 5 minutes of busting your ass.
“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”