Stop Belly Breathing

Do you ever feel like your neck is exhausted trying to do ab workouts? Do your upper traps seem to get overloaded from activities that have no business stressing the upper traps like running? Or repetitive box jumps? That's weird, right?

Actually, it's not that weird. It's not weird because if you were truly strapped for oxygen and at risk of suffocating, your upper traps and neck would pull your rib cage up, creating space in your chest and allowing you to inhale. Your main breathing muscle resides in your abdomen as a divider between your chest and your belly. As it contracts to allow for inhalation, it descends down into your belly. This effectively does the same thing as your upper traps and neck in that it creates more space for air. Why does any of this matter?

It matters because your neck should not be doing those flutter kicks and V-Ups. Your upper traps should not be pumping you through that run and your belief that diaphragmatic breathing involves popping your belly out is contributing to the problem.

Rather than turn this blog into a breathing mechanics deep dive, let's use some imagery to detail what your body should do to breathe normally, and then I'll attach a few exercises to start training your body to optimize your breathing mechanics.


Balloons blow up in a symmetrical 360 degree manner. Now, your rib cage is not a balloon, but it does have the ability to expand in a 360 degree manner.

There are muscles between your ribs that allow for expansion of the rib cage in the front, the side, and the back. For belly breathers, the ability for the muscles between your ribs to stretch decreases. Your rib cage becomes more rigid and stops expanding in the back, then the sides, and eventually the front too. By this time we will often see a pooch develop (common in men) that splits the six pack in the belly.

Belly hair not a requirement for what is called a Diastasis Recti seen in men. You may have heard this term before, but as it pertains to women. Women often develop this pooch as a response to ligament laxity during pregnancy. Men develop it from a rigid rib cage and years of forced, poor breathing patterns.

Let's discuss briefly what normal breathing looks like, that way you can visualize what you need to do before you try the videos below.

1. Brain says breathe in.

2. Diaphragm contracts and pulls down out of the chest wall.

3. The abdomen distends slightly.

4. The chest wall expands as air fills the space the diaphragm used to fill.

-The chest wall expands in the front, the sides, and the back. The muscles between every rib stretch out to allow for the rib cage to expand in all three directions.

-At the bottom of the rib cage, the most motion is seen going to the sides. At the top we see the most motion going forward. The entire back moves backwards and to the sides slightly.

5. Exhale and return to the start position.

Now, what we see in belly breathers is more like this:

1. Brain says breathe in.

2. Diaphragm contracts and pulls down a little bit out of the chest wall.

3. The belly distends maximally

3. Chest wall expands slightly as air fills the space the diaphragm used to fill but not enough air is able to get in because distending the belly does not create space for air, diaphragm contraction and rib cage expansion do.

4. The brain says inhale more, so:

-The rib cage tilts backward at the top and pokes forward out the front at the bottom, extending the low back.

-With the back extended, the abs lengthen, allowing more distention of the abdominal wall to occur.

-The diaphragm stays down, a little bit, while the neck and upper traps pull the rib cage up and back into the neck (forward head posture anyone?)

5. Exhale and return to the start position.

Why is that a problem? Overtime your brain realizes its not getting enough air, so it tries harder and harder to get air in. That means more tipping back, more diaphragm descent with less ascent, and eventually rigidity of the rib cage and cervical spine cause problems. Sleep apnea, exercise induced asthma, fear of cardio can all come from this issue.

What is the fix? Technically it depends on your exact presentation, but if you are looking for ideas of where to get started, reference the videos below.

Supine Hooklying Bar Reach

Quadruped Breathing

Seated Alternating Pull Down

Have questions? Email them to