Assessments You Might Be Overlooking: Installment 5
Written on May 21, 2014 at 5:40 pm, by Eric Cressey
Today's guest post comes from Cressey Performance coach, Greg Robins.
I have this weird habit. Although, the more I pick the brains of like-minded individuals the more I realize it’s just something everyone fascinated with human development does.
I like to watch people. I like to watch their curious reactions to their external environment. I like to watch people converse with other people. I like to watch how they move, how they breathe, how they settle into their default static positions. It sounds creepy, I guess, but it’s far removed from the image you have of me lurking in the window with binoculars.
I’ll watch sports and realize I’m no longer even keeping an eye on the ball; I’m lost in awe of the fluidity of an elite athlete’s movement capabilities. If I’m close up at a live sporting event, I’m analyzing the body type and physical development of players while they’re warming up.
I’m constantly looking at people, and conversing with people; trying to piece together who they are.
When Eric started this series I thought it was fascinating. It only made me more tuned in to the details of people, outside of any diagnostic tests I may eventually bring them through. Assessments became like an experiment of sorts. I would take all these clues from the first 20 minutes I met someone and see if the eventual tests gave some validity to the observations, and presumptions I was making.
I decided I had to contribute a one of my favorite assessments that you might be overlooking:
Hypertrophy and or tone of the accessory breathing musculature, coupled with primarily breathing through the mouth.
As I stated above, one thing I watch is how people breathe. However, even before I tune into watching individual breaths, I look at the muscularity and apparent tone of their accessory respiratory muscles. In particular, I’m looking at their neck. Often time people who are “stuck” in a faulty respiration strategy have necks that seemingly look to belong on a pro strongman, not a middle-aged weekend warrior, or an undertrained high school pitcher. Their scalenes, sternocleidomastoids, and levator costarum muscles are incredibly developed in comparison to the rest of their musculature. Bill Hartman posted a great video on this a few years back, if you'd like to see it in action:
This little tip off leads me to take a closer look at their respiration. I often notice the same person breathing primarily through the mouth, rather than the nose. I lay them on their back, have them remove their shirt (when appropriate) and cue myself in to the pattern of their inhalations and exhalations.
Not surprisingly these giants of neck development, are often the same folks who are stuck in inhalation, or a state of hyperinflation. They have poor function of their diaphragms, and generally take the form of our usual “over-extended” individual. In many cases, they present with a lack of shoulder flexion because their lats are constantly “on.”
They take shallow, frequent breaths, which never allow for full exhalation. To take a page out of the Postural Restoration Institute’s respiration manual, hyperinflation does the following:
- Increase sympathetic “fight or flight” responses and anxiousness
- Impairs nerve conduction
- Vasoconstricts peripheral and gastrointestinal vessels
- Restricts circulation in cerebral cortex
- Shunts blood flow peripherally
- Impairs coronary arterial flow
- Promotes fatigue, weakness, irregular heart rate, etc.
- Impairs breathing and weakens diaphragm contractility
- Increases overuse of “thoracic breathing”
- Enhances peripheral neuropathic syptoms
- Enhances sympathetic adrenaline activity and hypersensitivity to lights and sounds
- Increases phobic dysfunction, panic attacks, restless leg syndromes, heightened vigilance, etc.
- Facilitates catastrophic thinking and hypochondria
As you can see, this simple observation leads us to a series of additional questions, and more times than not, the discovery that someone’s ailments are the cause of their respiratory dysfunction. Their autonomics are dictating much of their dysfunction, even voluntary movement dysfunctions.
This is an important assessment because acknowledging this discord means we can intervene. Including breathing drills to correct respiratory function can help to restore many of the qualities we aim to improve (i.e. movement patterns, recovery rate, performance qualities, etc.).
If you are keen to excessive tone in the accessory musculature, you can begin to dig deeper and more closely observe their respiration, as well as ask them about different conditions listed above. If the pieces fit together, use some of the following drills to help them correct the dysfunction.
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