Pro athletes around the globe have started paying a lot of attention to a muscle they can’t see or touch: the diaphragm. We chat to personal trainer Luke Worthington, one of the only people in the UK to have trained with the US-based Postural Restoration Institute, to find out why
Q: Surely we don’t need lessons in breathing?
A: Of course not, we are pre-programmed to survive. Your brain will do everything it can to make sure you don’t die today. This means it ensures your heart pumps blood around your body and that you breathe air in and out. Although we don’t consciously control our hearts, we can control our breathing and that’s why these techniques are so powerful.
Q: So how come we’re still standing?
A: Our diaphragm is a respiratory muscle, it is ‘designed’ to draw air into our chest. However, much the same way as changing the angle of a bench can make a chest press more or less difficult, changing the position of our hips, ribcage, or indeed any other part of our bodies can put the diaphragm in a position of weakness.
Q: What effect does this weakness have?
A: If and when this happens, our brains have to figure out how to get air in and out without using our diaphragm. Not breathing is not an option, so we will breathe from the top of our lungs, which can cause us to hunch our shoulders, over extend our lower backs, over use the muscles in our neck and jaw amongst many other compensations. These in turn can then trigger a cascade of other problems in the hips, knees, and even the feet.
Q: Just breathing incorrectly can trigger so many problems?
A: Indeed. Our bodies were not designed to live the way we do. We spend far too much time in one position, whether we are sitting at our desks all day or exercising in always the same way. Essentially we are forcing our bodies to live a 2D, symmetrical life when we should be living in a more asymmetric, or 3D kind of way.
Q: Ok, you’ve lost me there.
A: What I mean is if you were to draw a line down the middle of your body, we would not be the same on both sides. And yet if you think about all the activities we partake in, especially in sport, we are expected to do everything symmetrically. Riding a bike, running, walking in a straight line – these activities all fit into the world we have created around us but it’s not how we were meant to be. You need to have a lot more rotation in your movements in order for your body to work correctly.
Q: How can I live in a more 3D kind of way?
A: That’s where the Postural Restoration Institute, or PRI, comes in. It’s founder, physical therapist Ron Hruska, believes that common problems such as shoulder or back pain are caused by improper posture and therefore improper breathing. Essentially we believe that fixing your posture can have the most extraordinary effect on almost every function of human movement and performance. All we do is train your brain to breathe properly in the right position – it’s almost like pushing the reset button on your phone.
Q: How does a PRI treatment work?
A: I simply assess your body, your movement patterns, and figure out where the restrictions are. Most of us will already know that we have a ‘tight’ area – what we’re now doing is helping to understand why it was tight in the first place.
I then put you into various positions that may feel alien at first, but once you start breathing in that position, your brain understands that you did manage to breathe there, no catastrophe happened, and you certainly didn’t die. It works immediately. I am essentially training your brain to be OK in that new – correct – position.
Q: Do you need to have chronic pain or a specific injury to have PRI treatment?
A: I do work with a lot of pro and elite athletes, some with injuries but many without. Improving alignment will be beneficial to anyone who has any sort of ache or niggle. But where this is particularly exciting is how much of a difference it can make to your wellbeing and your performance in sport.
As well as being a personal trainer at Third Space, Luke Worthington is one of the first people in the UK to train with the Postural Restoration Institute and is set to be the first to obtain the PRT accreditation in this country.
He has worked with world class athletes including Kevin Mbabu, footballer for Newcastle United, and Stuart Meaker, England cricket player.
To book a PRI treatment with Luke, call our Soho concierge team on 0207 439 6333