Do you breathe to one side only when you swim?
Are you struggling with a chronic recurring injury on the bicycle or on the run?
How does unbalanced breathing affect body-alignment and cause chronic injuries?
To answer the last question we need to go back to how the body moves; when we walk, when we run and when we do any bilateral repetitive movement. As little babies we first learn how to roll, then to crawl, then to lunge and eventually to stand up and walk. All these movements involve the spiral patterns of our bodies and all the muscles involved in rotation.
When we carefully assess all these movements it becomes clear that the body uses a few spiral patterns that twists the arms, the legs and the body as a whole and they are all connected in a very specific way. Fully functional spiral patterns need full range of movement or at least equal range of movement (left equal to right) of all the muscles responsible for rotation.
In the fully functional spiral pattern of the human body, the shoulder always works together with the opposite hip. When we walk or run, our right shoulder moves forward together with the left hip and if you watch the body move in slow motion, you will notice how all the joints move through internal and external rotation in a very specific and balanced way.
Breathing patterns in swimming
We all know that when we focus on specific muscles in a weight- or strength training regime, those muscles become bigger, more defined, but also shorter. The same happens when a swimmer is in a habit of breathing to one side only when swimming crawl. Instead of moving through equal ranges of rotation, the one shoulder does more external rotation while the opposite shoulder does more internal rotation. The Latissimus Dorsi muscle (Lats) on the ‘breathing side’ works a lot harder when you breathe to one side only and subsequently becomes a lot stronger and shorter than the Lats on the opposite side. The Lat plays a huge role in rotating the upper body and propelling the body forward when we run.
If the Lat on the one side becomes shorter and stronger, it affects the spiral pattern of the upper body which has a direct effect on the spiral pattern of the opposite leg. Suddenly the runner may be facing typical spiral-related injuries like Achilles strains, repetitive tears of the hip, Runner’s knee etc.
The picture on the right demonstrates full range of movement of both the right Latissimus Dorsi and the left shoulder lateral rotators. If you are not able to touch fingers equally on both sides, you either have a shortened Latissimus Dorsi (top arm) or shortened lateral rotators (bottom arm), which will have a serious effect on your spiral lines.
If we look at all the major muscles that play a role in our spiral movements, it becomes obvious that limited range of movement of any of the muscles in the arm, upper body or leg, could throw a spanner in the wheel of our running body, causing sudden spontaneous injuries that soon become chronic injuries.
A Case Study
I recently worked with a professional triathlete who has never been injured before, but suddenly struggled with pain in the groin with no history of any trauma. The only change in her training was a change in her bike set-up in order to improve her aerodynamic position when cycling.
A MRI test showed irritation of the labrum of the hip, but no tear yet. The pain however was so intense that she was not able to run at all without pain. Symptomatic treatment had no effect and she decided to consult me to perform a full Lyno assessment.
From the subjective assessment it was clear that the change in bike set-up could not be the main cause of the pain. Her pain was on the one side only and although the new bike set-up changed her hip position, the position was still neutral and could not have caused pain on the one side only.
The Lyno assessment however clearly showed a shortening of the Latissimus Dorsi on one side, combined with a shortening of the Serratus Anterior and the shoulder lateral rotators on the other side. In addition to the upper body spiral imbalance, there was a shortening of the Sartorius muscle on the one side, which is responsible for lifting the hip forward and rotating it laterally in the seated position (on the bicycle).
Her trunk rotation to the one side was also limited and the obvious question was: How do you breathe when you swim?
She came from a strong swimming back-ground and admitted that although she tries to breathe to both sides in training, she tends to breathe to the one side only when she gets tired, when she has to swim hard and always during races. This was the clear reason why the Lats was stronger and shorter on the one side, which had a ripple effect through the whole body and placed the hips in a vulnerable position. The moment the hips were forced into more flexion in order to get her into a more aerodynamic position on the bicycle, the shortened Sartorius on the one side caused medial rotation of the opposite hip, resulting in irritation of the anterior labrum.
Old injuries often lead to compensation patterns which complicates the function of the spiral lines. Since she has never been injured before and was purely locked in the imbalanced breathing pattern, the solution was very simple. We first released the connective tissue lock that made it easier for her to breathe to the one side, re-trained the brain to use both upper body spiral patterns in breathing and strengthened the weaker spiral pattern. We then continued and did the same with the leg spiral patterns in order to achieve neutral hip movement. By balancing her spiral patterns we not only helped her to get out of a debilitating injury pattern, but she also became a stronger swimmer in the process.
We all get away with spiral imbalances by compensating in many different ways. However, as soon as we increase our activities or change our habits, imbalances often end up producing symptoms in remote areas.
A full holistic functional assessment is crucial to determine the cause of spontaneous injuries in athletes. Do not waste time and money by focussing on the symptoms only. Make sure you find the possible cause of your injury; it may even result in an improvement in performance!