Workout of the Day

Breathing Away From Pain


Did you know that dysfunctional breathing could be causing or keeping you in pain? Breathing guy, here to tell you, yes, there’s yet another massive reason to practice functional breathing.

Here’s the rub: overbreathing (breathing more than your body’s physiological need), along with certain breathing patterns like chest-breathing and mouth breathing, leads to a sympathetic response. That’s the fight/flight/freeze mode. For context, our body has a sympathetic nervous system for a reason: to protect itself against imminent threats, be it a sabertooth tiger, a falling boulder, or a battle with a neighboring tribe. (You’ll notice I didn’t mention “sitting in traffic” or “paying your phone bill on time” as imminent threats that your sympathetic nervous system protects you against — more on this in a minute). The sympathetic nervous system makes you ready for action: tense, alert, energized. This is great when there’s a sabertooth nipping at your heels, and could just be the difference between death and survival. Only, you’re not running from sabertooths.

In our sabertooth story, the chase ends (we’ll assume in your safety and survival), and you can take a minute to chill out and relish in living another day. This “chilling out” is going parasympathetic. Rest, digest, reproduce, recover, etc. But in our sabertooth-free but micro-stress rich environment, people often get stuck in sympathetic mode. They’re ready for action, but the action never comes, and the elevated state never turns off. While this may sound like a great way to get things done (alert and energized all the time? Hell yeah!), it’s not. Like driving your car at redline, it takes lots of energy and wear-and-tear. And without time to rest and recover, your redline slowly drops from 7,000rpms to 5,000rpms to 2,000rpms, and now you’re barely above idling speed but still putting redline-like stress on the system. Yikes.

Where does pain fit in? Along with alertness and energy come heightened sensitivity (you want to be able to see the sabertooth coming) and tension (ready for action) when you’re in sympathetic mode. Keep this switch in the “on” position all the time, and your body is going to start doing some funky things. Your body’s threat-avoidance behavior could include amplifying pain signals and tensing up as a protective measure in response to any pre-existing pain, which will only make the problem worse. That minor inflammation in your shoulder that could be resolved with some gentle movement or mobilizations now has a megaphone up to it, and it’s only getting louder.

The cycle is vicious, and one of your best tools for disrupting it is your breath. Start with something simple. Close your mouth, and slow your breathing. Let your exhales be slow and soft. Breathe out tension with every cycle. To take it a step further, add breathing to your mobility. When you’re doing your soft tissue work or moving in and out of your end-ranges, slow your exhale and relax into the discomfort; don’t tense up, hyperventilate, and run from it.

Neglecting a functional breathing practice is like living with a sabertooth tiger as a roommate. Get your breathing in line, and trade out that sabertooth for a cuddly housecat and get yourself out of pain.

- PS


  • Sumo deadlift - 5,5,3,3,3,1,1,1,1,1


  • For quality:

    • 100 hamstring curls

    • 100 hip thrusts