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Exercises to Strengthen Inhalation Muscles

This is an excerpt from Breathe, Focus, Excel by Harvey Martin.

The following exercises strengthen the muscles involved in inhalation. Inhalation is primarily driven by the thoracic diaphragm, which separates the chest cavity from the abdomen. The goal of these exercises is to help you fully use the diaphragm while creating a full range of motion around the torso.

Partner-Push Breathing

In this exercise you will experience tension against the intercostals and diaphragm when inhaling. To perform the exercise, lie faceup on the floor, with the legs straight and arms by your side. A partner places their hands on the sides of your torso just below the nipples and cups the rib cage with the fingers down and thumbs on top. Breathing only through the nose, exhale most of your air out while your partner guides your ribs down. Take a five-second nasal inhalation while your partner applies light pressure against your rib cage as it expands (see figure a). Hold your breath for one second at the end of the inhalation, and then exhale while your partner pushes gently to guide the rib cage back down and in (see figure b). The pressure should not be strong enough to keep you from taking a five-second nasal inhalation. The pressure should be sufficient to create resistance for the diaphragm as it expands the rib cage 360 degrees. Your partner counts both the five-second inhalation and exhalation. Follow the cadence while breathing into your partner’s pressure and back out. Perform one set of 10 breaths.

Partner-Push Breathing

Banded-Pressure Breathing

This exercise is similar to the partner-push breathing, except the pressure comes from a band around the torso. The objective remains the same—to apply pressure around the rib cage, forcing the diaphragm to expand horizontally and against tension. To begin, sit crossed-legged on the floor, sit on a chair with the feet flat on the floor, or stand with the feet hip-width apart. Loop a resistance band around the bottom of the ribs, and pull each end with your hands to create tension.

To perform this exercise, exhale most of the air out of the lungs through the nose and at the same time, pull on the ends of the band to maintain tension and guide the ribs down and in. Next, take a deep inhalation through the nose and loosen the tension on the band while breathing horizontally into it (see figure a). The breath should expand the ribs 360 degrees and should fully use the diaphragm. Make sure the entire band maintains contact with the body while inhaling. Imagine you are a beverage can and you’re filling yourself up with air from the inside. At the end of each inhalation, hold for one second. You should feel as if the rib cage is expanded 360 degrees, and the beverage can is filled completely with air.

After the inhalation, exhale through the nose while pulling the band gently to guide the ribs back down and in (see figure b). After a complete exhalation, pause for one second and take another deep inhalation through the nose, repeating the cycle. The inhalation should fill the rib cage area with air while the band provides tension. Perform one set of 10 breaths.

Banded-Pressure Breathing

More Excerpts From Breathe