So, what next?
Let’s start large-scale and move from there. First on the list: your stress level. If you have ever considered yourself to be high-strung, type A, or just a high-stress person in general, you might want to consider reducing your stress levels. Not only will this benefit you in terms of your breathing patterns, but chronic stress has been linked to a host of different diseases that are way beyond the scope of these posts.
The second step is to now fix your aberrant breathing pattern. Breathing diaphragmatically is only mastered with daily practice and execution. Here’s how I typically set up some diaphragmatic breathing before a training session: lay on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent to something like 90 degrees. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, and try to focus on expanding the abdomen (not the chest) with each inhale. If you take nice, long exhales, you’ll feel your lower back press into the floor as your abs engage.
From there we might perform, as I’ve aptly-named, a sacral bridge. The idea is to engage the glutes and hamstrings just enough to keep the sacrum off the floor as your perform your deep breathing. Done correctly, you’ll feel the lower back relax toward the floor as you breath (and probably even moreso than in a regular supine position).
Additionally, I’ll use a host of PRI-style bridges and deep-squat breathing, depending on the individual. But for now you can just start on your back. Practice your diaphragmatic breathing before and after your workouts and try to be cognizant of your breathing pattern during the day.
Next step: let’s tackle your sedentary lifestyle and constant sitting. As a trainer, I’m pretty lucky in that I have a job that allows me to walk around all day, alternating between squatting, kneeling, and even sometimes supine positions. However, your office job probably doesn’t afford you the same luxury. In fact, even a standing desk probably won’t completely eliminate your back issues.
In order to improve the tissue quality and strength of your posterior chain (i.e. the hamstrings and glutes), you’ll need to get into the gym a little more often. Start with self myofascial release, also known as foam rolling. You can perform it with a softball, lacrosse ball, foam roller, PVC pipe, or just about anything else that seems to “roll” on the floor.
Literally sit your ass on a lacrosse ball and roll around on it every day until it doesn’t hurt so much.
Strength in the posterior chain will come from lower body exercises, like the deadlift. This is just one (of approximately ten thousand) reasons to lift weights. But the first order of business is to get your hip hinge under control. Without a solid foundation in that hinge pattern, your squats and deadlifts will both be rendered useless as your spine (once again) takes over the load bearing for your hips. But also keep in mind that, since your hip mobility is lacking, your hip hinge might not come with very much range-of-motion. Instead, it’ll be important to work with what you have and allow your range-of-motion to improve over time as your hip mobility improves.
The key with hip hinging is feeling the stretch in the hamstrings. If you don’t feel the stretch in your hamstrings, your hips aren’t moving correctly and your hinge is wrong.
The same goes for losing the stretch at the bottom. If you lose the hamstring stretch at the bottom, something went wrong. Once you’ve mastered this movement, it’s time to load your hip hinge in the form of squat, deadlift, and split or pistol squat patterns. My go-to exercises include Romanian deadlifts, single-leg deadlifts, and split squats.
And also remember this: feeling tension in the hamstrings at the bottom of your hip hinge doesn’t mean they need to be stretched. Even feeling tension throughout the day doesn’t mean they need to be stretched. Stretching your hamstrings won’t necessarily afford you greater range-of-motion through your hinge if your hips are the limiting factor.
In fact, constantly stretching the hamstrings could actually be counterproductive as down-regulating these muscles will allow the low back to more easily continue it’s quest for world domination.
So there, we’ve taken care of your aberrant breathing pattern and your long, weak butt. You should see an improvement in hip mobility, experience fewer lower back problems, and feel better overall.
If you’ve already experienced a disc issue that is causing a radiating pain throughout the lower body, you’ll want to speak with a doctor. While a solid base of breathing and strength will help prevent future injuries, an existing disc issue that’s causing nerve pain won’t necessarily be fixed with more exercise.
So that’s it. In summary: diaphragmatic breathing, self myofascial release, less sitting and less stress, and strengthen your posterior chain. If you feel like your mobility is already impaired, have it assessed by someone qualified to assess you and then go have your hips worked on by somebody qualified to work on them.
Oh, and if you’re just standing around in line at the grocery store or the bank, squeeze your butt. But don’t squeeze other people’s butts – that’s just not right.