Breathing Drills

The foundation of our work with close to 100% of the population we work with begins with correcting breathing patterns. In a nutshell, here is why:

  • Dramatic improvement in movement patterns 
  • Fewer injuries
  • Better recovery (between intense bouts and sessions)
  • More bulletproof and awesome
  • Sets the stage for building to athletic potential

When you or your child begin a training program at Strength & Performance Training, the first step is going through our advanced, unique, and cutting-edge evaluation. From the results of that evaluation, we begin the program design process. 

As with any evaluation process, the results impact the pathways that come thereafter. In the case of SAPT, their are varying levels of pathways. Each with their own sub-paths. Over our many years of working with athletes at every level and from every walk of life, we have been able to determine the pathways that lead to the greatest progress in the most efficient possible route.

Our first pathway, the one that is always prioritized as both foundational and necessary in all programs, is that of breathing patterns and drills.

Life Support

The human body really is a marvel. When given the proper conditions, it is capable of high-performance, the likes of which we have yet to see fully realized. While on the other end of the spectrum, given the “proper” conditions, the body is capable of adjusting and functioning in extremely unfavorable conditions. Great athletes can even thrive when everything about their lifestyle and training would indicate otherwise. 

The body can adjust to anything that does not actually kill it. We somehow manage to eat completely manufactured food-like products and still manage to think, write, walk. Humans have adapted to a lifestyle of sitting, when we were clearly designed for low-level ambulatory activity at most times. The examples can go on endlessly. 

As these adjustments occur, we generally tend to think everything is on the up-and-up in our bodies. Why walk, run, or bike from place to place when we can sit, relatively relaxed, in a motorized vehicle that quickly zips us from A to B? Sure, it is comfortable. But, when that sitting is complimented by another 8+ hours of sitting at school or work with an extra 3 hours reclined on the couch it starts to accumulate and effect your body negatively. The results - that you may only notice over time - include: poor circulation, atrophied gluteal muscles, low back pain, sciatica, rounded shoulders, forward head posture. All of which result in big time postural problems, predisposition to injury, and a myriad of physical and psychological problems. 

While it has become more generally accepted by the public that sitting = bad and moving = good, there is a lot more to this. The science of human performance is just that: Science. The research coming out every year is staggering and the knowledge that has developed just in the last 5-years is unbelievable. 

At SAPT, we only have human performance specialists on staff. Not hobbyists. Professionals. As such, our charge is to ensure that the programs and, ultimately, value we deliver to our clients must stand at the forefront of the industry. 

Since we’re diving right into science, let’s take a look back at the simple example of sitting = bad and moving = good. Okay, I agree. But, let’s take that deeper. Let’s be a little smarter about this and ask some more questions:

We know that the common mal-alignments in the body ultimately stem from poor pelvic balance and that is, in fact, causing the postural asymmetries.

But what causes this poor pelvic balance in the first place? Traditionally, we’ve chalked it up to an increasingly sedentary environment - too much sitting, not enough moving. Even for children. In fact this problem first develops in children, all children. 

Let’s go deeper still. There is actually something else going on besides our chair bound, screen driven environment. It just so happens that if you look very deep, like inside your body, you will discover that the muscle responsible for respiration, the diaphragm, is actually itself asymmetrical! In fact, the thorax is packed with asymmetrical situations: the heart sets on one side, the liver on the other to adjust the diaphragm is divided into two domes (on the right and left sides) one dome is smaller and weaker than the other. This sets off a precipitation of events. All of which ultimately influence our athletic performance, efficiency, injury patterns and more.


Let’s break this down a bit further. It’s important to grasp this point. If you can grasp this, then you will understand our methods: All kinds of important parts of the body attach and interact with the diaphragm. Since, by our bodies’ design, one side of the diaphragm is stronger than the other and that means that certain compensatory patterns always develop. Always. If you are a human you have these patterns. 

The diaphragm is stronger on the right side, this ultimately means that we favor (and overwork) the right side of the body. While the left side becomes weakened and inefficient. Similar to having a dominant hand, the right side of the diaphragm is everyone’s dominant side.

After understanding this as fact, we can see the commonplace asymmetries develop: one shoulder higher than the other, the rib cage set at predictable angles from right to left and front to back, the pelvis rotated predictably.


Injury Potential and Predictability

Alright, we’re getting back on solid footing. The by-design asymmetry of our diaphragm causes the postural asymmetries that cause, over time, injury. This is another fact.

How many times has a well meaning coach had an athlete statically stretch chronically tight hamstrings? Do they ever regain the proper ROM? Nope. But, those tight hamstrings are actually indicative of a risk for injury that points to pelvic misalignment and, you guessed it, points then towards diaphragm and thorax corrections that MUST occur before high performance can ever be achieved.

Another common example: How many times has a pitching coach focused their injury prevention program to address only the throwing side? Their thought being that they need to strengthen and protect the side of the body that gets worked all the time. WRONG. Good gracious that’s just layering on the problems. The body needs to be balanced out for high performance. 

Sub-Optimal Performance

Let’s continue to talk about the pitching coach who runs a one sided arm care program. Hey, it kind of makes sense. You throw with one arm, why wouldn’t focus on strengthening the musculature on just that side? 

Because over time you create many layers of dysfunction. These layers can be very hard to peel back in older, trained athletes. These layers will inevitably limit the lengths of their careers (from a physical standpoint).

Never, ever layer strength on top of dysfunction. The potential for injury skyrockets (that’s my opinion) and it becomes very difficult to make the foundational corrections (to backtrack). 

The result? The athlete has now gotten “stronger” and tighter and more imbalanced in the pursuit of increased performance. 

What should the approach have been? Fix the imbalances first, prioritize this as essential to performance, then and only then, begin to strengthen.


When respiration isn’t occurring efficiently, an athlete’s ability to recover between bouts of training (or plays in a game) will be suboptimal. Potentially leading to injury, compromised decision making (think ability to read a developing play), lost points, or a Loss.


We’ve established that the diaphragm will cause poor pelvic balance. But what does that mean for gait?

“Walking and breathing are the foundations of movement and prerequisites for efficient, forceful, non-compensatory squatting, lunging, running, sprinting, leaping, hopping, or jumping ONLY WHEN three influential inputs are engaged: proprioception, referencing, and grounding.” [PRI coursework]

Pulled muscles, ligament tears, rolled ankles can all be traced back to a pelvis, and thus, breathing problems.

Turns out, that tilted and rotated pelvis can be a real problem!

How many great (or on their way to great) athletic careers have been stopped in their tracks by an injury?

How to fix: Zone of Apposition

Moving forward with the understanding that breathing really is the key to life, we have to ask: how do you fix this?

There is something called the Zone of Apposition (ZOA) and this is the area where the diaphragm and ribcage overlap each other. We want to maximize this overlap through proper ribcage positioning.


Here’s the good news: train the ribcage to be in the proper position and now those imbalances start to clear up. The benefits include:

  • Better ROM at all joints
  • Better recovery for bouts of work
  • Less compensatory patterns throughout the body

Now we can work on performance!

How we use/integrate breathing drills to achieve performance improvements

Ground based:

Against gravity —> Static

Against gravity —> dynamic & sub-max: These drills are any movement in which we can take the opportunity to work on proper alignment of the ZOA and respiration while moving our bodies with or without load. A standing dumbbell shoulder press is an excellent example of a sub-maximal exercise that can be executed with consideration to breathing (or not).

Against gravity —> dynamic & max: again examples include actual lifts but this time at maximal effort or maximal speed. The deadlift is a good example. Taking the opportunity to set the ZOA is what ultimately will fire the core, protect the spine, and make for a more productive lift. And, YES, it IS possible to be very strong and execute max effort with perfect form!

What the athlete gets as a result:

  • Better movement patterns (without forcing it)
  • Fewer injuries
  • Better recovery (between intense bouts and sessions)
  • More bulletproof and awesome

It seems that to truly get what we want from our bodies, we need to first take care of some of the deepest considerations: diet, breath, mindset pop out to me.