"If you have no time for exercise, you'd
better reserve a lot of time for disease"
- DR. Michael Colgan
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Power Breath
© Colgan Institute 2007
Elite athletes know that imposing any exercise program on a dysfunctional body only worsens
dysfunction. You first have to analyze each person’s unique posture and structure and design a program
to correct their specific structural imbalances, by strengthening weak muscles, and stretching tight
muscles and fascia. Only then you can train properly. But, one important function that affects all
movement is often overlooked – breathing. Correct breathing is in rhythm with movement, is vital for
both oxygenating your tissues and stabilizing your core.

Athletes at rest take 12-15 breaths a minute. The best tend to breath slowest and deepest. At 15 breaths a
minute, you breath 900 times every hour, over 20,000 breaths every day. In concert with good structure
and muscular development, breathing is an important source of power. The form and rhythm and timing
of each breath affects every movement we make. Yet, most of the people we test breathe poorly. Imagine
any other action in sport or in life that is practiced poorly 20,000 times a day. Disastrous!

    The common faults we see are:
    1. Chest breathing
    2. Exhaling at the point of effort.
    3. Breathing that is uncoordinated with movement.

Three-Part Breathing

We teach power breathing for sport (and for life) as a three-step process.

    Step 1, and most important, inhale into the lower third of your lungs.
    This is the area most richly endowed with oxygen receptors.
    The easiest way to learn is to pull the diaphragm down by sticking out your belly,
    the relaxed “belly breathing” taught in yoga for the last 3000 years.
    As you improve, you learn to push the diaphragm down while holding the transversus in,
    so as to increase intra-abdominal pressure to stabilize the core. Start by teaching your
    clients belly breathing and work from there.

    Step 2, fill the middle third of the lungs by expanding the ribcage sideways.
    You should be able to place your fingers on the client’s outer ribs, and feel the ribcage
    widen by at least two inches.

    Step 3, fill the top of the lungs by raising the chest.
    For many people, chest breathing is all they do.
    They never properly oxygenate their tissues nor activate their Inner Unit,
    yet wonder why they fatigue easily, and cannot make powerful movements.

Coordinate Breathing with Effort
The second major fault we see is exhalation at the point of effort. This practice arose primarily because
academics whose biggest exertion was probably tying their shoes, told insurance companies that holding
the breath during effort increases intra-abdominal pressure, raises blood pressure and puts the heart and
arteries at risk. So, for insurance purposes, most gym clients have been taught for generations to exhale
as they made an effort.
Train Your Lungs for
optimal levels!
Exercise Playing Cards
It is true that retained breath on effort raises intra-abdominal pressure. That’s exactly how the body is
programmed. Intra-abdominal pressure stabilizes the core. That’s why you inhale sharply as a reflex
when faced with a sudden threat. As part of our ancient fight-flight system, the body is programmed to
inhale to stabilize the core to make the body as stable as possible for fighting or fleeing.

In the Power Program we take advantage of this superb reflex to apply maximum effort by inhaling
immediately before effort, and momentarily retaining the breath during the rapid concentric contraction,
then releasing the breath evenly during the slow eccentric contraction. Unless your client knows how to
do this breathing, they will never be able to apply maximum effort. Worse, if they habitually use the
exhale-on-effort nonsense taught in many gyms, they will be weak in movement and highly subject to
back injury. At the Colgan Institute we teach boxers, martial artists and all combat athletes to strike their
opponent just as he finishes exhaling, because that is when his body is weakest.

Small Hole Exhalation

You can maintain your strength during exhalation by learning to exhale with the “small hole” technique.
The easiest method is to push half the breath out suddenly through pursed lips, a technique taught to
asthma patients to increase oxygen absorption. The sudden push momentarily increases pressure in the
lungs, which also pushes down the diaphragm further and further strengthens the core. There is also a
genetically programmed reflex retraction of the upper abdominal wall. More difficult, but far superior, is
to learn to narrow the throat, for small hole exhalation, the way of controlling the breath taught in martial
arts and in advanced stages of the Power Program.

To benefit most from the small-hole technique you have to coordinate the sudden push of breath exactly
with the instant of greatest effort in a movement, or the point of impact in a kick or punch, Good
examples are the “Ki-eee” shout in martial arts, and the closed mouth grunt of boxers at the moment they
strike. Try the grunt yourself now, with your core tight, and feel your abdomen retract to further increase
stabilization. Timing is critical, however, and we see many athletes make the forced exhalation before the
point of impact. They immediately lose 10-20% of their power.

We also see a lot of people who expel all their breath at the impact point, thereby leaving themselves jelly
weak for attack by an opponent, or unable to carry a power movement strongly to its conclusion. Teach
your clients the right way, to expel half the breath suddenly then the other half evenly, to maintain core
strength throughout.

At the Power Program Camp in June, we will have the advantage of yoga teacher Anna Anderson, whose
practice centers on the breath. Join us at her classes and take another big step on the road to controlled
Blennerhassett House, 140 Kitchen Road Salt Spring Island, B.C. V8K 2B3, Canada
Ph: 250-653-2073; Fax: 250-653-2093 Email: team@colganinstitute.com
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