Rest in Peace- Belly Breathing

I was seeing a psychotherapist last year who guided me through a meditation. During the breathing portion, he cued me to let my belly expand upon inhalation.

After the meditation ended,  I asked him why he wanted me to push my belly out. He said pushing the belly out allowed me to breathe with my diaphragm instead of being a shallow chest breather. Better diaphragmatic breathing would tap into my parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest), and allow me to relax.

Little did my therapist know I’m a breathing fanatic. My life might always seem like it’s falling apart and I don’t know what I’m doing from his perspective, but I got breathing retraining down pat. I ended up educating him like I do many people on what diaphragmatic breathing really is, and what it is not.

Spoiler alert: belly breathing isn’t doing what most people think it’s doing, and people are not really chest breathers.

During respiration, you actually want your abdomen AND chest to expand. Your lungs are in your chest, not in your belly. Your belly already has a bunch of substance in there (organs), let the rib cage take the air.

During normal respiratory mechanics, the ribcage and abdomen should expand a complete 360 degrees to achieve adequate intra-abdominal pressure.

Belly breathing lacks this circumferential expansion, reducing intra-abdominal pressure, which can result in limiting movement options and performance in the gym.

Before we go any further, let’s go over what are normal mechanics of respiration, and what it is not.

THE Zac Cupples made an amazing 8 minute video for you all. It will get you a better understanding on what breathing should be and then we’ll get into some practical stuff that I know you’ll love.

If you’re coaching belly breathing, it’s okay to stop.

It’s 100% okay to let your clients know you’ve learned something new and you want to implement it.

When I first got into teaching breathing 8 years ago, I too coached belly breathing. I would put light chains on their bellies and got them to push against as they inhaled. Even though my intentions were always in my client’s best interest, my lack of knowledge led to lackluster breath coaching.

If your intention is to stop your clients from being shallow breathers, tap into their parasympathetic nervous system, teach them how to chill out, and have them become better movers and more efficient lifters, belly breathing is not the way.

So as of today: RIP Belly Breathing.

Never again will you coach it.

I will teach you what you CAN start coaching and you will start helping your clients with wayyy more than just “breathing”.

Let’s say Zac’s video just went over your head. It’s cool. Breathing is complicated.

Let’s wrap your head around this stuff by showing you the big picture and giving you some actional steps to start getting good at this stuff.

If you want to change someone’s breathing, you have to start looking at the structure that surrounds the lungs.

When you’re trying to understand your main breathing muscle, your diaphragm, you must appreciate the position that the ribcage is in. And if there’s something I look at a lot, it starts with R and ends with IBCAGE.

Trying to achieve diaphragmatic breathing by cuing a “belly breath”, “pooch the belly out” or “Let your belly billow out” would be like trying to open a door that is already open.

A door must be closed before it can be opened.

In order for you to take a breath IN with your diaphragm (Inhalation, Inspiration), it needs to come from a state of being OUT (Exhalation, Expiration).

In order for you to be ale to do what’s on the left, you have to come from being on the right.

I’ve put my hands on hundreds of people’s ribs. Some of the assessment findings stay pretty consistent with each person I look at . Even though everyone seems different from the outside, their thorax’s keep telling me a similar story:

And It’s telling me to tell you “STOP COACHING ME TO BELLY BREATHE, You’re fucking it up!!”

When you assess the rib cage, you can make some assumptions on what phases of respiration people are in and what phases of respiration they struggle getting in. In this post, we’re going to keep things simple.

Because in reality, people can present different breathing limitations all throughout the body. Today’s goal, is to get you to stop coaching your clients to belly breathe, or start coaching breathing in general, and start globally making clients better movers/breathers!

Once you have experience coaching the activities I will share below, you’ll be ready to take things deeper. Because it always goes deeper. Nothing about the human organism is simple. Remember that.

To not overcomplicate things, we’re going to say your clients struggle to achieve a position of full exhalation with the diaphragm in a domed position, where the middle is pulled up, like a parachute.

See how it looks like a parachute?

If it can’t dome/exhale, the diaphragm sits flat, in a position of inhalation (inspiration), which can be accompanied with numerous movement limitations, and what most people would consider “poor posture”.

Your muscles that you use to breathe in with are winning, but they’re not even winning a good way, like our President.

Your muscles that help you achieve a state of full exhalation are struggling and are not in a position of a lot of power. Like our coward corporate Democrats we have in office.

Your clients struggle breathing correctly, just like they struggle with other movements like flexing their shoulder or extending their hips. Fortunately, a little emphasis of it goes along way.

I’m very biased, but I think breathing is a movement more coaches should be paying attention to.

If you can’t perform another movement like hip extension, It’s easy to understand that limitation will be accompanied with problems on the training floor. Can’t extend hips, means they can’t lock out their deadlift without arching their back.

With breathing, it’s harder to make those connections, but I guarantee, if your clients suck and breathing in and out, it will definitely be accompanied with problems on the training floor.

You’ll see things like, limited shoulder motions that prevent upper body lifts from looking good, hips can’t extend so they feel everything in their back, ankle won’t bend and their squat looks like shit…you name it.

If you start appreciation breathing, you might start seeing alllll the annoying problems on the training floor magically disappear.

If you’re interested in how breathing can affect movement, the next video is perfect for you.

If programming constraints are taken away due to the quality of movement your clients can demonstrate, you can get these people STRONG no matter what their background is.

This is Josh. Two years ago Josh couldn’t do much without pain.

Josh can now deadlift over 300lbs and squat over 200lbs and he got there with the help of breath retraining.

Josh’s story repeats itself over and over, not just at Enhancing life, but at gyms all over the place.

Coaches who get deep into breathing, realize that it’s more than just breathing. It’s more than just putting people in 90/90. It’s more than just rehab.

This rabbit hole gets hated on all the time but the ones that get into it, are no longer driven by what other fitness professionals think, they’re more driven by the results their clients are getting.

Like Josh’s results. Josh was doing step ups last week with 100lbs on his back (safety bar), and he said “This feels so good!”.

The same Josh that said last year that he thought his knees were one day going to give out on him.

Appreciating breathing is a huge reason why he has progressed so much. Not the only reason of course, but it was definitely a big piece of the puzzle.

Now I hope you’re wondering, what should I do instead of cuing belly breathing? How can I help my clients breathe without overusing their back and neck muscles 20,000 times a day? How can I get my clients moving better and get them to become more efficient lifters?

I’ll help you get started 🙂

Look at the following exercises as activities that put your muscles in a better position to be a better breathing/mover.

The better you breathe, the more degrees of freedom your joints will have. More degrees of freedom means more movement possibilities!

Breathing sequence for all these activities:

  1. Full breath OUT through the mouth
  2. 3-5 second hold at the end of the exhale
  3. Inhale keeping the front ribs down vs belly breath. The cue of keeping the front ribs down doesn’t mean expansion is not allowed there. By cuing that, it allows for the expansion to be closer to 360, so you should see some movement in the belly, but cuing it to not expand tends to give you the outcome you want (360 expansion).

Once you have hours of coaching these exercises under your belt, you’ll be able to start digging deeper.

I didnt come up with ANY of this. This is just my interpretation of the things I’ve learned through REALLY smart people.

The two people you need to start following are Zac Cupples and Bill Hartman. If you keep asking yourself Why and How these are the guys that will help you figure out those answers. Invest your money on their courses/intensives.

However, you have to be a decent coach to even take their info and be successful with it.

Good coaching can’t be taught through a webinar or a lecture seminar where they only use one person to demo with.

Lucky for you, Michelle Boland, Michael Mullin, and I have the perfect seminar for you!

The first day 100% HANDS ON coaching.

April 27th & 28th 2019
The Trio: Lucy Hendricks, Dr. Michelle Boland, & Michael Mullin
Day 1: Saturday with Lucy Hendricks & Dr. Michelle Boland, Fundamentally Sound: Coaching & Technical Mastery
Hours: Five Total, 8am-1pm
Day 2: Sunday with Michael Mullin, Circuiting the Rehab Training Model
Hours: Five Total, 8am-2pm, lunch 11:30-12:30pm

What people have said about the hands on portion:

Fit Pros, What Do You Know About Back Pain?

Alex Kraszewski is a Physiotherapist working in Essex, United Kingdom, who also holds a triple bodyweight Deadlift to his name. He’s here to talk about how to better understand back pain as a fitness professional.

Back pain sucks. If you’re a human being or you work with human beings, chances are you or your clients have experienced back pain that varied from either a mild backache to being disabled by pain. Despite the huge advances in medicine, the number of people suffering with back pain is spiralling out of control, and we don’t seem to be much better at dealing with it.

In most cases of back pain (nearly 90%), there isn’t a single source of pain. Scans and investigations might show disc bulges and dehydration, arthritis and compressed nerves, but there are no guarantees these cause pain. Relating pain purely to structure, without appreciating the bigger picture, is probably what got us in this mess with back pain in the first place.

Pain is influenced by almost everything in our lives, and the biopsychosocial model helps us appreciate how all these inputs can interact when it comes to pain. Stress, sleep, education and beliefs about pain, how we move and exercise and many other things, all influence pain. No one single thing causes pain, and if you make this assertion nowadays, the internet will strike down upon you with more vengeance and furious anger than Jules Winnfield.

Back Pain often has a mechanical component

But just because pain is influenced by more than how we move in the gym,  that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t value how we move in the gym, and under load. What’re we’re doing at any one time (context) dictates what movement strategies would be appropriate. To that end, we need to consider how motions, postures and loads  influence the load an exercise exposes us to.

Take a 100kg/225lb Deadlift. The things that will influence how, and where, that 100kg is applied to the body depends on;

  • Type of Deadlift used (Conventional, Sumo, Trap-Bar, etc) – Load
  • Positions used (neutral spine, more flexed or more extended) – Posture
  • The shape and size of the lifter (limb and torso length) – Posture
  • Movements used (interaction of the spine, hips and knees) – Motion
  • Volume of lifting (Sets & Reps, sessions per week/month?) – Load

And the result of these things include;

  • A more horizontal torso position (conventional deadlift) will increase spine load compared to a more vertical torso position (sumo or trap bar)
  • A more flexed or rounded spine position will load the passive structures of the spine and increase spinal shear forces compared to a more mid-range or ‘neutral’ position
  • More spine flexion for the longer-legged lifter with a conventional deadlift, compared to a trap bar deadlift.
  • Using more spine motion and less hip motion will load the spine more than the hips
  • More volume will increase spine load, regardless of form.

Exercise execution influences load, but we can’t use this as the only way to decide if something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Konstantin Konstantovs made a reputation for himself by pulling over 400kg with a round back and no belt

I’ll say that again. Over 900lbs with no belt and a round back. Go back 10 years and the thought of spine flexion under this much load would’ve broken the internet. Thankfully – we’ve moved on a bit since then.

Most of our clients aren’t mutants, so alongside thinking about the way we lift, and how it influences spine load, we also have to take into account the other ‘stuff’ too;

  • What does the rest of the training session and overall program look like?
  • How much rest and recovery is occurring outside of the gym (think stress, sleep, hydration, nutrition).
  • What does the rest of the week look like for motions, postures and loads (office ninja, manual labourer, or crime-fighting superhero?)
  • How adapted to one particular strategy of lifting is the client (is it a brand new way of doing things, or have they done it for years without a problem?)

If there is a balance between the way in which exercises are performed and what goes on in the rest of our lives (load), and our ability to recover from these things (capacity), we will adapt positively and get fitter and stronger. Injury risk increases when there is an imbalance between the load applied and our ability to recover;

The first priority as a fitness professional if pain or injury is reported is to have a healthcare professional check it’s nothing serious. After that, the fitness professional is well placed to identify the motions, postures and loads associated with back pain. We don’t say causing back pain, because this starts to move into a diagnostic and healthcare arena.

Back pain won’t have a clear medical diagnosis a lot of the time, but a ‘movement diagnosis’ can be an important factor to consider with a client’s pain. A movement diagnosis allows us to consider the motions, postures and loads associated with pain, without getting hung up on a structural source of pain.

Flexion and Extension Based Back Pain – A ‘Movement Diagnosis’ for Trainers

One way of broadly categorising back pain within resistance training is as flexion- or extension-based. As far as the mechanical component of back pain goes, we are looking for whether a client’s back pain relates to a flexion or extension motion, posture, and/or load.  

This doesn’t mean we ignore the non-mechanical factors for pain, but it can identify exercise selections or executions that may be part of the painful picture to make changes accordingly. If we can do that, we stand a great chance of helping our clients reduce their pain, and get back to crushing it in the gym, and in life.

Let’s say someone is performing a roundbacked deadlift with a hip hinge that could do with better execution and is reporting back pain, we can lean towards that person reporting flexion-based back pain. The reasons for this might include;

  • The motion of spine flexion to extension to complete the lift
  • The posture of spine flexion under load
  • The load requiring control and resistance of spinal flexion

These factors are based on the way the exercise is being performed, but don’t forget to consider how much the exercise is being performed. Perfect technique doesn’t mean you’re invincible to unlimited volume and intensity, or that your recovery outside of the gym doesn’t matter.

If and when pain is present in this scenario,  we have a couple of options of what to change;

  • Coach the exercise in a way that changes the posture (round back towards more neutral spine) or motion (more hip hinge, less spine motion) – The Way
  • Reduce the load – either the weight on the bar, or the volume of the exercise – How much
  • Change the exercise (conventional block deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts or sumo deadlifts) – The Way

We can apply this any exercise. Understanding what could be contributing to back pain, and working around this, is developing the ‘trainable menu’. This is way better than just resting and waiting for pain to go away.

In the Complete Trainer’s Toolbox, I take a deep dive into the variety of factors within exercise that can influence spine loading, how to both modify exercise in the presence of back pain, and how to help rebuild the client who is struggling with back pain to get them back to their most loved and enjoyed activities.

The Complete Trainers Toolbox is available for a launch sale pricing for $100 off the regular price until Sunday February 17th at midnight. Get Alex’s presentations, as well as an additional 15+ hours of digital video content and 1.7 continuing education credits

How Coaches Can Create The Future of Healthcare: Interview with Dr Terry Wahls

When people find out I don’t want kids, my fitness industry friends seem to understand more than others. A lot of them even share the same feelings than me about reproducing.

That might be because we see the world in a similar way. If you make a living on helping people be healthy, it’s hard to not look around and feel completely hopeless for our society’s future. We are one brainwashed, overstressed, underslept, overworked, disconnected world, and it’s only getting worse.

Having kids in a world that keeps getting sicker, and the fight to be healthy gets harder and harder makes reproducing seem like an uphill battle.

Trying to advocate for your own health is a tough job, especially if it’s your actual career of choice. The health and fitness industry has enemies that constantly make it hard. They promote unhealthy behavior, they make candy cheaper than vegetables, they make it harder for POC to get access our services, and they pump misleading information that keeps the public in the dark.

It wasn’t until 2016, the year I got into politics, that I found out those same enemies I’d been dealing with for years in the fitness industry, were the ones funding politicians to push policies and bills that are leaving us with horrible health consequences.

And if you’re not dealing with corruption and greed, you’re dealing with uneducated politicians that don’t know what it takes to have a healthy society. Their view on health doesn’t go beyond conventional medicine, insurance companies, and misguided information. So even though their intentions are nothing but the best, like Bernie and Alexandria Cortez, their plan to keep people healthy, falls short.

Hoping to get the health and fitness industry involved in politics due to their level of education on the topic, I started talking about the need to get everyone politically involved, especially people like us (coaches) who connect the public to information they can trust.

I had a few people who supported my idea, but for the most part, I got reminded that getting political wasn’t a good idea for my business, and/or for my online presence.

Being as stubborn as I am, I kept at it.

I kept pushing, kept digging deeper, and I kept seeking out people who could help me figuring things out. I was part of two worlds I felt needed to be desperately combined. I felt so strongly about this, I was convinced that 5+ years from now I was going to leave the industry and get into politics because someone in the political system needed to advocate for our health.

Corrupt and uneducated politicians were not cutting it for me.

But first, I had to figure out what I needed to fight for once I got in. Even though my beliefs strongly align with the progressive side of things, some of their policies like health care for all, didn’t sit well with me and I had no one I trusted to talk to about it.

The people I looked up to in the health world were conservatives or “not into politics”, and the people I looked up in the political world like The Young Turks, knew nothing about health.

The amount of money spent on preventable disease is outrageous. If we give people free “healthcare” with no system in place that focuses on patient education and health ownership, the amount of money we spend on disease will keep raising. Healthcare will just be a system that doesn’t let people die, while simultaneously keeping them sick.

Which is why it’s no surprise health advocates align with the conservative side when it comes to healthcare. They know Medicaid for all won’t save us when we live in a society that relies on the person in the white coat and insurance companies to dictate their health. But I can’t bring myself to support a system that lets people die because they couldn’t afford surgery, or a doctor’s appointment after their cut on their foot got infected.

Even though I don’t want the person relying on insulin to die by taking away their medication, I want the system to change that got the person relying on medication in the first place.

Over the last year I’ve felt quite alone with my views on things, until one lazy day where I was scrolling through social media and I noticed someone I truly admired in the health industry post something political on facebook.

Dr. Terry Wahls shared something about her son running for state senate. Terry Wahls is one of the pioneers of the paleo and functional medicine world. When I saw a post about her support for Stacey Abrams and researched her Son’s political background, I immediately felt a rush of hope. I had found someone who seemed to have the same political views and someone who would be way more educated on the topic than me.

I wondered “What kind of policies does someone like Wahls believe in? What is her son going to fight for? What do they think of healthcare?! Is her son influenced by her knowledge in health!?”

Really eager to know some of these answers, I emailed her. 2 minutes later I got an automatic response saying she got an overwhelming amount of emails….etc etc basically, not getting a response.

HOWEVER, a couple days later, she accepted my interview! I was finally going to get the answers to the questions I had from someone who I trusted and seemed to have the same views as mine.

I was excited to find out how we can bring positive change into the political system that advocates for our health. I wanted to know more about the policies I should be fighting for. And most importantly, I was hoping to find out what my future role in politics was going to be, because I wanted to bring massive change at the highest branches of government.

I got all those answers…..

And halfway through the interview, I found out what my future role was.

It’s not in politics.

It’s as coach, a connector.

Someone who connects people to the right information and show them how much control they truly have over their health.

Terry Wahls shifted my perspective and gave me the direction I’d been searching for.

Now I’m calling on all fitness and rehab professionals to join me and be the CONNECTORS we have the opportunity of being.

During this interview we go over: 

  • How much should the government be involved in our lives 
  • Is a federal solution the answer to getting our society healthy?
  • Will we ever have healthcare that isn’t influenced by corruption and uneducated politicians? 
  • What policies should we be fighting for? 
  • Why we should study the attributes of health and happiness? 
  • Should the fitness and health industry get politically involved? 
  • How to get your tribe involved to create affordability around being healthy
  • How coaches and health advocates can start creating change at the local level
  • How coaches could be the future of healthcare

Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine and the cookbook The Wahls Protocol Cooking for Life: The Revolutionary Modern Paleo Plan to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions. You can learn more about her work from her website, She hosts the Wahls Protocol Seminar every August where anyone can learn how to implement the Protocol with ease and success. Follow her on Facebook (Terry Wahls MD), on Instagram drterrywahls and on Twitter at @TerryWahls. Learn more about her MS clinical trials by reaching out to her team via this email: [email protected]

If you want to learn more about being a coach who takes a multi-factorial approach: Check this blog out, sign up for my newsletter, and/or learn from me in person!

I hope you enjoyed this.

Until next time 🙂


The Breathing Strategy Hierarchy

A couple of years ago Bill Hartman opened my mind to a new way of assessing someone’s movement needs. Since then, Through Bill and Zac’s work, I’ve developed a movement assessment that helps my clients move better. When clients move well, progressing them to lifting comes with little to no problems.

This morning while running on 5ish hours of sleep, jet lagged, and after too much coffee, I decided to take the students through my thought process when picking breathing activities for my clients. I will be refining this and adding the lower extremities, but in the meantime, learn what breathing and arm position a client needs when picking activities.

Also, sorry for the gum chewing :O

ENJOY! and let me know if it helps, or if it didn’t and you’re still confused. If this doesn’t make sense, I will find a better way of explaining it.

Before you watch this, if you’re new to this whole breathing thing, watch this video, and check out my article on it, first!