I use diaphragmatic breathing exercises with select clients in certain situations.
However, your clients won't get better solely from the diaphragmatic breathing technique.
- They won't get leaner.
- They won't get stronger.
- They won't get more conditioned.
- They won't look better naked.
And if reading this makes you mad then you need to take a step back and honestly re-evaluate your training philosophy.
What Is Diaphragmatic Breathing? If It Isn't So Great...Why Is Everyone Talking About It?
It's new, exciting, and very few people understand it.
It's an opportunity for other professionals to get ahead of the game and teach you something you probably haven't heard of.
Plus, it sounds wicked cool.
- Breathe better to fix your posture?
- Breathe better to eliminate your pain?
- Breathe better to win the lottery?
Maybe I lied about the last one.
The diaphragmatic breathing technique is being touted as the magic pill. The cure-all for anything and everything you work so hard to help your clients improve day-in and day-out.
But let me ask you this: If a client asked you for a supplement -- a single supplement to help them burn fat, gain strength, and look better naked -- what would you tell them?
My guess, you'd probably tell them, "Quit thinking about supplements and start focusing on your training and nutrition!"
"There is no magic pill. There isn't a single supplement, not one in the entire world, which will do more for you than eating right and training hard."
And assuming that's what you would say (I hope it is)...what makes you any different?
In thinking that diaphragmatic breathing is the single best training tool for every client regardless of their goal, you're falling into the same trap as your clients.
Because the reality is diaphragmatic breathing isn't for everyone and it definitely won't be the driving force behind your clients' progress.
Helping your clients to form better habits through proper nutrition and consistent exercise is the single most important thing you can do to help them achieve their goals.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is either ignorant, trying to sell you something, or both.
If Breathing Drills Aren't Important then Why do the Best in the Industry Write About Them So Much
Just because a reputable coach writes about them doesn't mean they make them the sum and substance of their training programs.
Take scapular stability drills for example. Some of the best coaches in the world have written countless articles, even books, on this topic alone but you can put money on the fact that their clients aren't spending 60-minutes performing wall slides and scap push-up variations.
The best in the industry are the best because they know what works. They understand that sticking to the basics are, and always will be, the single most effective way to help their clients succeed.
- They get their clients moving.
- They get their clients stronger.
- And they get their clients eating better.
Take, for example, Eric Cressey.
Arguably the single-most influential coach in the entire fitness industry, Eric Cressey has created a world-class training facility catering to world class athletes.
It's every performance coaches dream come true.
And while Eric is one of the forerunners writing about the benefits of diaphragmatic breathing, most coaches reading his work forget two very important points:
1. Eric works with a highly specialized population
Baseball players. Professional baseball players. Professional baseball players who play a minimum of 162 games per season.
Oh, and they have million-dollar contracts.
Probably not who you're working with, right?
So for Eric, diaphragmatic breathing has been a great tool to help his clients restore sufficient range of motion without provoking the shoulder through manual stretching.
With little-to-no effort and minimal time investment, Eric's athletes can improve their shoulder health and function with a couple basic breathing drills.
It's an efficient and effective tool for this highly specialized population.
2. Eric's clients spend very little time practicing diaphragmatic breathing
If you've ever walked into Eric's facility you know the first things you'll see are athletes squatting and deadlifting more weight than most people can even comprehend.
Walk a little further into the training room and you'll find athletes sprinting on the turf, pushing heavy sleds, and practicing a variety of speed, power, and agility drills.
But what about the breathing?
At any given moment you might see a couple athletes practicing a breathing drill as part of their warm-up or active recovery between sets, but the reality is Eric's athletes spend very little time focusing on diaphragmatic breathing.
99% of their training sessions are focused on lifting, moving, and training hard.
Your Clients Aren't Paying You to Get Them Better at Breathing
They're paying you to help them lose weight.
They're paying you to help them get stronger.
They're paying you to help them get in shape.
If you're spending more time "fixing" their breathing patterns or putting them in a so-called "neutral" alignment than you are getting them to exercise, you aren't only doing them a massive disservice, but you will eventually lose them as a client.
Think you can't help them until they're "neutral?"
Well, you really won't be able to help them when they decide to find a coach who is going to get them exercising.
How Can Diaphragmatic Breathing Fit Into Your Programs?
First and foremost, I don't care who you're working with, specialized breathing drills should never take up more than a couple minutes of your clients' training session.
If your clients are practicing breathing for more than 5-minutes (and that's being very generous) on any given training day, then they're doing too much breathing and not enough training.
Second, you need to carefully choose with whom you decide to practice breathing. If you're working with a relatively advanced trainee/athlete who is confident in the gym and willing to do whatever you say without feeling self-conscious, go ahead and give them some breathing drills.
But if you're working with a client who's brand new to working out and highly self-conscious, your time would be better spent making them feel more comfortable in their own skin while improving their general fitness.
And while there may be benefits of diaphragmatic breathing exercises...it won't help them lose weight, it won't increase their self-efficacy, and it won't make them feel more comfortable in the gym.
Pick your battles wisely.
From Jon: If you are interested in learning more about breathing, Eric's got some great resources (just know when you use them).
Here's a video:
Further Reading (right click and open in a new window)
Is Posture Important? - Justin Kompf
The Ultimate Guide to Pain - Anoop Balachandran
Should Personal Trainers Sell Supplements? - Jonathan Goodman
How to Get My Clients to Follow Nutrition Advice - Jonathan Goodman
How to Fix Bad Pushups - Dean Somerset
Why You Must Not Stretch Hypermobility Clients - Eric Cressey
15 Common Mobility Mistakes - Eric Cressey
55 Reasons Why the Deadlift is the Best Exercise of All Time - Dean Somerset
10 Tips for Coaching Your Advanced Training Clients - Andrew Heming