Stand straight, breathe better

We all breathe. It’s a necessity of life and something we generally do without thinking about it. Most of us also don’t tend to think about our posture and how we sit or stand. However, if we do think about them it becomes clear how interlinked they are.

Don’t believe me? Then try this simple experiment: sit down and bend forward as if you were going to tie your shoelace. Breathe in. Notice how much air you can draw in and the effort required. Now sit up and breathe in. It will be much easier to inhale and your lungs will expand to a far greater extent. Even seemingly unrelated parts of the body can have an effect: wind and brass players are taught not to cross their legs, even at the ankles, for example, as it affects their ability to fully inhale.


As the picture shows, breathing involves three main muscle groups: the intercostal muscles of the thoracic ribcage; the abdominal muscles (Obliques, Transverse Abdominus, Rectus Abdominus); and the diaphragm, which is a dome-shaped sheet of muscle situated at the bottom of the chest, under the ribcage. Good breathing is led by the diaphragm, which should be responsible for 70-80% of inhalation. When we breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and flattens down, which creates a vacuum causing air to rush in and fill the lungs. When we breathe out, it returns to its dome-like position, forcing the air back out.



When we slump, the ribcage and sternum press down into the diaphragm, and the abdominal muscles shorten. This reduces their efficiency. The body, however, naturally compensates through the use of other muscles. In this case it utilises those of the neck, some of which are attached to the ribs. This causes the neck muscles to overwork. Many of us slump without even realising it, and over time this poor posture becomes our default stance as our muscles adapt to this position. Over time this can contribute to neck and shoulder pain and headaches.

It is, however, never too late to do set about improving our posture and breathing. It starts with an awareness of both. As you stand or sit now, become aware of your posture. Chances are that your shoulders are rounded and your pelvis and hips are not aligned. Gently move your hips so that they are over your pelvis and rotate your shoulders back and down. Your spine and neck should instantly feel longer. Breathe in. If you are breathing from your diaphragm your stomach will expand while your chest will barely move. Notice how this feels. Now keep doing it.

It will, of course, take time for this to become something that happens automatically but, if you keep noticing when your posture has slumped and adjusting it accordingly, your muscle and joint memory will start to occur naturally.

Elite Therapy is a multidisciplinary sports therapy and physiotherapy clinic in Coventry. We treat a range of injuries both sporting and non-sporting as well as back, neck and musculoskeletal pain. Elite Therapy’s services include assessment and diagnosis, physiotherapy, sports therapy, massage therapy, taping and ultrasound. There is also an on-site rehabilitation gym, and a studio for Pilates and yoga classes.