So, you’ve been working hard, training hard, and enjoying life. Your body is a little achy, and dang you’ve been looking forward to a vacation for the last few months. Summer is here! You’ve got your chance to take a break from work and really, truly, relax. Or, maybe you’ve got a move coming and you know you won't be able to train as much.
So, the question arises… how little training do I have to do over a longer vacation or during a transition such as a move to a new home to maintain strength levels for my sport? For me it's soccer, but for you it may be running, tennis, basketball, or pickleball!
Let's dive into the literature.
Luckily, a fantastic review titled “Maintaining Physical Performance: The Minimal Dose of Exercise Needed to Preserve Endurance and Strength Over Time” was just published in 2021 answering this very question. Let’s look at the abstract and I’ll highlight important lines:
“Nearly every physically active person encounters periods in which the time available for exercise is limited (e.g., personal, family, or business conflicts). During such periods, the goal of physical training may be to simply maintain (rather than improve) physical performance. Similarly, certain special populations may desire to maintain performance for prolonged periods, namely athletes (during the competitive season and off-season) and military personnel (during deployment). The primary purpose of this brief, narrative review is to identify the minimal dose of exercise (i.e., frequency, volume, and intensity) needed to maintain physical performance over time. In general populations, endurance performance can be maintained for up to 15 weeks when training frequency is reduced to as little as 2 sessions per week or when exercise volume is reduced by 33–66% (as low as 13–26 minutes per session), as long as exercise intensity (exercising heart rate) is maintained. Strength and muscle size (at least in younger populations) can be maintained for up to 32 weeks with as little as 1 session of strength training per week and 1 set per exercise, as long as exercise intensity (relative load) is maintained; whereas, in older populations, maintaining muscle size may require up to 2 sessions per week and 2–3 sets per exercise, while maintaining exercise intensity. Insufficient data exists to make specific recommendations for athletes or military personnel. Our primary conclusion is that exercise intensity seems to be the key variable for maintaining physical performance over time, despite relatively large reductions in exercise frequency and volume.”1
The first time I read this, my jaw hit the floor.
What this means is that for most people, endurance can be maintained for over three months and strength can be maintained for over a half a year with relatively few sessions per week. The key metric is INTENSITY.
Strength only needs one session per week and just ONE set per exercise, as long as you’re intense and lifting your regular heavy weights. JUST ONE SET.
Endurance needs just two sessions per week, and only around 20 minutes of running, as long as you find an intense level of exertion.
I’ll keep this blog post short and sweet. Just wanted you guys to know about this amazing article and hopefully gain something from it. If you want to actually read an article this summer, make it this one, as it's pretty straight-forward. Now, go and actually enjoy a break when you need a break! Just a few INTENSE sessions a week is all you need. You’ve earned it.
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Marcus Rein PT DPT
1. Spiering, Barry A.1; Mujika, Iñigo2,3; Sharp, Marilyn A.1; Foulis, Stephen A.1 Maintaining Physical Performance: The Minimal Dose of Exercise Needed to Preserve Endurance and Strength Over Time, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2021 - Volume 35 - Issue 5 - p 1449-1458 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003964
Whether you enjoy yoga, powerlifting, running, or sport, any activity could benefit from small yet significant strength gains in your feet and ankles. Why is this? Your feet are the place that connects you to the earth! All the strength and power in your hips, thighs, and calves that you work on in the gym or through your sport is wonderful! Let's continue that chain of strength into the ground with some of these simple desk exercises!
What you’ll need for these exercises is your desk (of course), a t-shirt or small towel, and some small bands. Bonus exercise at the end will require some Toe Spacers.
1. Foot Massage with Small Ball (3-5min each foot)
Warm up your strengthening with a small ball massage for your feet! While sitting at your desk, take a small ball and place it under your foot, rolling it around and finding good sensitive knots to target. While you’re working at your desk, massage each foot until it feels more supple. Once supple, move onto the next exercise.
2. Towel or T-Shirt Crawls (1-5min each foot)
Take your small towel or t-shirt and splay your toes, grab the cloth, then pull it towards you. Then push it left, right, all over! Imagine your feet are doing little crunches, working on its “core” to improve its arch.
3. Banded Inversion and Eversion (1-3min for Inversion and Eversion for each foot)
Wrap your band around the chair or desk and put your foot inside. From there bring your foot outwards to strengthen the outside of your foot (this movement is called Eversion). Do this for a few sets, each set until tired!
Take that same band and now let's go inwards (Inversion!) just like in the image below. Same idea, do a few sets, each to fatigue.
4. BONUS: Toe Spacer Cooldown (10-30min)
Once you’ve done your massage and two strengthening exercises, treat your toes! Get a toe-spacer like this one for each of your feet and wear them for about 30min.
Give this series a try 1x/day for 2 weeks and I promise your feet will thank you!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Marcus Rein PT DPT
As the weather continues to warm up and we begin to look towards the outdoors for a return to running, let's give a quick rundown of what to look for when purchasing running shoes. The shoe is obviously the most important piece of running equipment. Shoes make contact with the ground, provide cushion between our body and the running surface, and affect how we absorb those loads while out for a run.
Here are a couple of factors to think about when looking for a running shoe:
The Brake Test
Midsole Drop or Offset (see pictures below)
The drop in midsole height is the height difference between the heel height and the forefoot height of the shoe.
A zero drop shoe refers to a shoe with no difference between the heel and forefoot height.
A shoe with a high drop height would have a greater than 8mm height difference between the heel and the forefoot (with the heel being higher).
A higher heel to forefoot height drop can lead to a pattern of landing with the heels. The mechanics of heel landing leads to greater loading and force absorption of the knees and hips while running.
Stack Height (see pictures above)
The stack height refers to the amount of shoe midsole between your foot and the ground. Barefoot and minimalist style shoes have the lowest stack heights between 3-12 mm in height. The reduced amount of cushion in the midsole allows for more shoe flexibility. The lower the cushion the more likely you are to land on your forefoot or midfoot leading to an increase in loading of the achilles tendon and calf muscles, which will also reduce stress placed on the knees while running.
A traditional running shoe will have a stack height around 10-29 mm in height and is what we typically think of when referring to running shoes. This allows for a wide range of flexibility and cushion.
Most shoes over 30mm in height are considered maximalist shoes. These will be highly cushioned and are easily spotted on the roads or trails. A maximalist shoe provides just that: maximal cushion with a lot of foam under the foot. The increase in cushion under the heel can lead to great heel striking, which will load the knee and hips more than the foot and calf muscles.
Toe Box Width
Looking at a running shoe, we want to have as much room as possible in the front of the shoe for the toes to spread out without feeling blousy or loose. Consider your distance and terrain surface for running. As your feet swell with an increased running distance, you may want a larger toe box if you are running ultramarathons. If you are trail running, a really loose shoe may limit your stability on loose gravel or uneven surfaces. You want ample room for your toes to spread and create a stable base of support for landing while running without creating slippage of the foot in the shoe.
Big Toe Mobility
Big toe stiffness can affect comfort and function while running. If you have big toe extension limitations, a large midsole drop height (info above) will create pretension of your big toe into extension. If you already have a limited range of motion, a large drop height can create more problems and pain in the toe as you try to generate toe off while running. Going to a zero drop shoe, or a shoe with more of a forefoot rocker, can allow for more comfortable toe off while running.
Neutral vs. Stability/Motion Control Shoe
Neutral shoes have no added bracing or foam density on the instep of the shoe to limit foot and ankle motion while running. Shoes with motion control or stability added to the midsole will have more dense foam or a plastic component added to the inside of the heel and arch area to reduce perceived pronation while landing. However, if you have a good strike pattern or stay on the outside of your foot, a motion control shoe can create more problems by not allowing the normal amount of motion to occur while running.
Time to Buy
When in doubt go to your local running store and try on different types of shoes. The associates at a good running store will be able to help you distinguish what type of shoe will fit your foot best. Looking at a shoe online to determine if it will work for you can lead to fit and function issues. If you find a pair of shoes that feel great and help you run pain free, stick to them. Shoe molds and uppers can change with a new version, so when in doubt go find a pair at a local store to try them on.
I hope this helps, and feel free to reach out with any questions you may have. Happy running!
Thanks for reading,
Sam Gillespie PT, DPT, OCS
You work hard. You want to stay fit and flexible. But, it's 7pm and dishes have to be put away and damnit if you still aren’t sore and stiff from that workout two days ago. Is it possible to both rest on the couch and also do some recovery work? Wouldn’t it be nice to get a nice massage and stretch while also winding down with a TV show? Follow this blog post for a short series of my FAVORITE couch-based recovery techniques where you can both be “lazy” and effective!
First step, put on your favorite show on the TV, grab a kettlebell, and let's get to work! Don't have a kettlebell? Go get one! They last a lifetime and open up a whole new realm of possibilities with your fitness. For example, this first massage technique:
1. The Couch Quad Massage (3-5min on each quadricep)
While sitting and starting your first show, take your kettlebell and rest it on your thigh. Use it to massage your tight quads! Search around for any stiff trigger point that you could release and just let the kettlebell rest there. Not intense enough? Angle the kettlebell so the corner of the bottom or even the handle is resting on that trigger point.
Now this WILL BE INTENSE but also effective. You want this to be strong but not so much that you are tensing up. You don’t even have to move the kettlebell. Just let it sit on the tender spot, relax into the trigger point release, and let the quad release!
I prefer a 35-pound kettlebell, but feel free to experiment with the size.
2. The Couch Quad Stretch (3-5min for each quadricep)
Start by standing up into a lunge position and putting your back knee into the deep part of the couch. See this photo for an example:
From here, squeeze your butt and push your hips forward slightly. You should feel a good quadricep stretch. If you don’t, stand up a bit taller. You may need to do this near the armrest of the couch so you can balance using your hand. This is one of my FAVORITES after a tough run or squat day.
3. The Couch Pigeon Stretch (3-5min for each hip)
From a sitting position, lean towards one hip and shift your opposing leg backwards as in this photo (keep your head and chest up to see the TV!)
This one is easy to enjoy during your show! Try some deep breathing if you can while enjoying this big hip stretch.
4. BONUS: The Couch Calf Massage (3-5min each calf)
Grab your kettlebell or lacrosse ball, have a seat on the ground in front of your couch, and put your calf on top of your object of choice and enjoy a bit of a calf massage as seen in the photo:
After these four “lazy” recovery techniques, you should be feeling relaxed, recovered, AND you got caught up on a favorite show of yours!
I hope you enjoy these techniques as much as I do. :)
Dr Marcus PT DPT
Performance Physical Therapist
In the physical therapy profession, imaging in the form of X-ray and MRI are regular assessments that we request and include within our patient model. Imaging is done, generally, to rule in or rule out certain conditions and to help make a medical diagnosis. Many patients believe that their physical therapist needs to see their X-ray or MRI in order to get appropriate treatment. This is often not the case! Imaging is simply another assessment in which the details therein are considered right alongside other in-clinic details, such as your squat/lunge or night-time pain, that physical therapists use to understand your biomechanics.
Physical therapists are trained to evaluate and treat people without diagnostic test results, full-stop. We do not need radiographs or MRIs to accurately assess and treat your conditions! The medical diagnoses and imaging findings are respected by the therapist, but therapists do not evaluate, prescribe exercises, or otherwise treat based on your imaging. Just as a picture of someone will not tell you a person’s story, a picture of a body part will tell a physical therapist very little about the entirety of the biomechanics of that region!
Additionally, all kinds of “incidental findings” in asymptomatic people can be found in all areas of the body with medical imaging. These findings include disc herniations, spinal stenosis, nerve compression, arthritis, hip and shoulder labrum tears, rotator cuff tendon tears, meniscus tears, signs of inflammation and tendonitis, and others, in asymptomatic people. These types of findings are in all populations – young, old, athletic (recreational to elite level), military, musicians, dominant and non-dominant sides, etc. Below is a summary of a literature review’s findings on spinal MRIs in asymptomatic populations1. As you can see, the prevalence of these findings on MRI does increase with age, but again, these are people without symptoms. Many people are walking around with “abnormal findings” with zero pain.
Pain and injuries are complex and experienced differently by everyone. A physical therapist relies primarily on a physical assessment and detailed history to determine the most appropriate treatment for someone. Each patient, even ones with the same image findings and medical diagnosis, will have a different physical presentation, location, quality, and intensity of symptoms, aggravating movements, physical activity history, stage in the healing process, personality, goals, etc. None of this can be gained from an X-ray or MRI, but all of it is important when treating someone.
So, when is imaging necessary? The most consistent time I send out for imaging is when the expected progression of recovery has stalled or regressed. As a doctor of physical therapy, I am very well trained in expected healing times of tissues. If timing is off for healing and has been so for some time, I request for imaging to add another assessment to the list in order to better fully understand what we are dealing with.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Marcus PT DPT
“Maybe if I just buy this standing desk, things will be better!”
Does this sound like you? If so, this article is tailor-made for you.
Let's go through many of the questions one-by-one. Maybe some of these will be of help to you if you are considering a standing desk.
Question 1: “Do you think I should get a standing desk?”
Generally speaking, yes! Though my reasoning won't be what you might think. As with any tool, it’s not really about the tool, it's about the intent behind using the tool. For many, the intent of having a stand-up desk is because they have back pain and are looking to stop sitting for most of their day. For others, it’s about improving overall health and wellness by standing more, as standing burns more calories than sitting. It all depends on what your intent is! First, find out exactly why you want a standing desk and then you can figure out why one might be for you (or not!).
Question 2: “What are the main benefits of a standing desk?”
It allows an opportunity for changing your movement patterns throughout your day.
If you were to sit or stand with “perfect posture” at work for an entire year, both would have their own set of problems. For the person who stands all day, their feet would start to really hurt; then possibly their knees or low back. Before long, they’d need to sit!
For the person who sits at work for an entire year, they eventually need to get up because their back and knees start to hurt.
For both parties, it’s not the fact that they are standing or sitting all day in a “perfect posture,” it’s that they need an opportunity to change their position to really feel better!
A standing desk that has the option to be both in a low and high position allows for both of these individuals to either sit or stand depending on how they are feeling. The key for them is more motion throughout the day! The key benefit for a desk that goes up AND down is that you can adjust your body more throughout the day, and more varied motion throughout your day is the KEY to longevity!
Question 3: “Why shouldn’t I get a standing desk?”
So, are standing desks amazing? YES! They are a great tool in the arsenal of a healthy individual. They allow for more movement throughout your day, of which is an absolute blessing! But don’t go thinking that just because you’re standing all day long, you will automatically feel much better. The key is varied motion every day, from both the office, to the yoga mat, to the gym, and to the couch!
More movement is always better.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna get to my stretches after finishing this blog post.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Marcus PT, DPT
Most people have heard we need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. However, many people struggle with getting this basic sleep requirement. Difficulty sleeping can be multifactorial, but there are some simple tips and cues we can use to help us get to and stay asleep.
Caffeine consumption could be a large contributor to your inability to sleep well. Caffeine blocks a chemical in the brain called adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical that builds throughout the day, making you feel sleepy the more it accumulates. Think of your brain as an empty parking lot after you wake up. If “adenosine cars” are allowed to fill the lot, you will feel sleepy. If you fill the parking lot with “caffeine cars,” those spots will be taken and adenosine will have no places to park. This will result in you feeling more alert. The effects of caffeine peak around five hours after consumption, and last for up to 10-12 hours after consumption.
A lot of people come into the clinic reporting they take melatonin to help them sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall asleep. However, melatonin does not keep you asleep. If you find yourself waking up a few hours after taking a melatonin supplement, you may want to look at other ways of creating a better sleep schedule. Avoid viewing light from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., as light inhibits the release of melatonin.
Light from the sun early in the morning can help set your circadian rhythm. The light from the sun has a different quality than light from your phone, so try not to view your phone or other electronic devices first thing in the morning. If you are trying to go to bed at an earlier time, but have a tough time falling asleep, it takes at least two to three days to reset your circadian rhythm. Do not be discouraged if it takes at least two to three days to adjust to your new wake/sleep schedule. Blue light glasses can also be good for night time, but should be avoided in the middle of the day.
We go through multiple phases during our sleep cycle. Two of the main cycles of sleep are REM and Non REM sleep. These cycles do not occur at the same time. If we miss out on two hours of sleep by going to bed late, we will miss about half of the Non-REM sleep; if we wake up two hours early, we will miss out on half of our REM sleep. So even though we are getting six out of the eight hours we need, we will miss out of half of a certain type of sleep based on whether we are going to bed late, or waking up abnormally early.
If you are struggling with your sleep, give the above takeaways a shot! If you are still having trouble sleeping due to neck, shoulder, back pain - what have you - give us a call or hit the button above, to see how we can help you get a more restful and effective night's sleep.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Sam, PT, DPT, OCS
During its more than seven years of business, Athletes’ Potential has had the opportunity to work with literally thousands of people. Through these patient experiences, we have accrued countless hours of repetition in helping people get out of pain and back to living an active and fulfilled lifestyle. We’ve worked with people with all kinds of different training backgrounds, differing life demands, and different goals for the outcome they want from their training. Through these hours of repetitions we’ve noticed some trends.
There are certain building blocks – habits, training styles, and mindsets – that exponentially increase your ability to master your health and wellness, which yields results that are much more impactful than simply looking better when you stand in front of the mirror. Understanding the three critical building blocks of health and wellness that we’re uncovering in this article is like a cheat code and here’s the cool part: It’s pretty simple.
Remember though, simple does not always equal easy.
Building Block #1: Know Your “Why”
This may seem obvious, but this is crucially important and honestly a lot harder for most people than they realize. Reason being, when we ask most people why they work out, we get responses like “to get/stay fit!” or “to be healthy,” and while we all like to look good when we’re naked, if that’s the furthest you’ve gone for discovering your “why,” you’re setting yourself up for burnout, poorer outcomes, and increasing your risk for injury.
Instead, dig a little deeper for your true “why.” In human psychology, the term for this is intrinsic value. What creates intrinsic value is different for everyone but some common examples of intrinsic value include self-worth, community, and connection. When we relate this to our health and wellness, that’s where the real magic happens.
For example, instead of, “I train so hard so that I can lose 20 pounds,” try this: “Nothing makes me happier than the time I have with my family. I want to maximize my presence, engagement, and capability of enjoying the activities that they enjoy doing.”
It may seem like overkill, but the data is indisputable. When you direct your efforts towards intrinsic motivators vs extrinsic motivators (ex: someone telling you you look like you’ve lost weight), you’ll enjoy your time that much more when you exercise, you’ll have significantly higher success at managing your health and wellness, and you’re more likely to lose that 20 pounds anyway. ;)
Building Block #2: Simplify The Process
There is so much noise out there. There’s so many people out there who are trying to tell you what you SHOULD do, what you SHOULDN’T do, and they really have no clue who you even are. This is nothing new though. In the 1950s, “gurus” we’re claiming the hula hoop was the key to unlocking washboard abs. In the 1960s, these same people were claiming you could shake your weight away with a vibrating belt. It’s a never-ending cycle that is myopic at best and predatorial at worst. Also, these same gurus have constant access to your attention through the device on which you’re either reading this article, is in your pocket, or is undoubtedly within arms reach.
A beautiful benefit to understanding your true “why” from building block number one, though, is once you figure that out, it becomes infinitely easier to overlook the 18-year-old with no children or family and counting on them telling you that you if you don’t drink your warm lemon water, read 20 pages of your favorite book, and meditate for an hour before you start your day, then you’re unsuccessful in your health and wellness program.
Obviously, being a little vicious here. I know plenty of young clinicians, coaches, and trainers who are incredible at what they do.
My point being, managing your health and wellness can be complex and complexity leads to confusion and the opportunity for misinformation. After you do building block number one, the best way you can combat this complexity is to find an expert who will take the time to understand that your marathon training has just as much to do with being a better parent as it does with “staying in shape,” who knows that you train so hard in the gym because it’s your way of battling the high demands that work is giving you and who will set you up on an appropriate game plan.
Building Block #3: Have Fun
You could have the perfect nutrition plan, the perfect training program, and all the time in the world, but at the end of the day if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’re still looking at a higher burnout rate, poorer outcomes, and increasing your risk for injury.
Of course, not everyday is going to be rainbows and butterflies, but if you enjoy running and all you’re doing is strength training because your friend Joe told you it’s the best way to lose weight, then you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle. Conversely, if you love strength training but all you do is running because Susan from Instagram said it’s better for your knees than squatting, you’re missing the point of spending time during the day to make yourself a healthier, happier human being.
At the end of the day, exercise is man-made. Kind of interesting to think about; right? There’s very few absolutes and everything is adjustable to fit your body, your goals, and your intrinsic values. While squats are great, important, and everyone should be able to do them, it’s not the only way to improve your leg strength. Deadlifts are incredible, but pulling a barbell off the ground isn’t the only way to do them.
At Athletes’ Potential, getting people out of pain is simply the start of how we impact the lives of the people who we work with on a daily basis. Once you are out of pain, not only do we have a ton of relationships with gyms in Atlanta with great coaches and training programs that we can point you towards, but we also have a number of services that provide you the opportunity to:
If you’re in the Atlanta area and are interested in working with a unique professional that can help you not only get out of pain but optimize your health and wellness in all of the areas discussed in this article, we need to talk.
Submit a contact request by clicking the button below and we’ll get you set up with one of our Doctors for a free 15-minute phone consultation.
Thanks for reading,
Doc Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS
Candy and cocktails and pies, oh my!
The holidays mean food. And for most people, that means all the yummy things that we tell ourselves are “bad” or off limits. So, how do we stick to our diets and double down on some ironclad willpower when we’re constantly faced with a barrage of savory, sweet, and decadent delights?
Here’s it is… the secret is out… all you have to do is… just eat. That’s it. Just eat.
For starters, the literal definition of a diet is, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” Knowing that, I want to get rid of the word “diet” in the context of implying that how a person normally eats isn’t okay and that one should stick to a structured approach, eliminating a group foods or only allowing certain foods at special times of the year, and only in moderation. (Of course, disregard if you have a legitimate allergy/aversion to something - like if an EpiPen would need to be involved).
Does this mean that you must Scrooge McDuck yourself into a vault of gravy and/or chocolate in order to assert your dominance over society’s standards of health and beauty? No. I mean, you do you. Side note: If you do have a vault and are filling it with gravy and/or chocolate to surf on and dive into, please call me. However, including fruits, veggies, water, and movement into our day are great ways to keep you feeling good, physically and mentally. Now, don’t beat yourself up about it, but being mindful of what foods and actions make us feel our best is always a good idea. We just don’t need to freak out that we’re eating a cinnamon bun for breakfast and then figuring out how many burpees we’ll need to do to “burn it off.” Taking the stress out being “good” or “bad” is what’s going to allow you to enjoy your life, holidays or not.
As we’ve established, for most people, the holidays are filled with fun treats and ways to relax that aren’t typically part of our daily lives year-round. So, take the time to slow down and enjoy your grandma’s famous apple pie that brings you back to a special memory. Have an extra cocktail with your dad on the front porch while making jokes that your mom would roll her eyes at. Take shots of whipped cream straight from the can while your cat, Jeff, looks at you in confusion and disgust while you stand in the soft, warm glow of the open fridge door. But enough about me… dive into whatever comfort and joy mean to you. No judgment!
If we are constantly afraid that what we eat and how we choose to enjoy things are going to make us “bad” or ruin our waistlines (whatever that means), then I think the true meaning of the holiday season is lost. In a year, five years, 20 years, you’re not going to remember what you weighed or that you were “good” because you turned down a favorite food. You’re going to want to look back and be thankful that you created special memories, enjoyed yourself, and made more inside jokes that will annoy your loved ones for another 20 years. And your judgmental cat. Chill out, Jeff…
Thanks for reading and happy holidays,
Claire, Office Manager at Athletes' Potential
Breathing. Seemingly, the most innate skill set you have as a human being. So innate that it’s used as a benchmark for being a healthy newborn and your first time taking a breath happens within the first 10 seconds you enter this world. Fast forward to adulthood and you’re breathing an average of 12 to 20 times per minute without a single thought. With all that practice, we must be pretty good at it; right? Not exactly. Stress, lifestyle choices, and mechanics all play a huge role in how we breathe, and all breath is not created equal.
Want an example of just how easily influenced our breathing patterns are? Look no further than something called “Email Apnea.” Yeah, that’s a real term, and it’s used to describe the phenomenon of people holding their breath when they read their email. One study by Business Insider found that upwards of 80% of people actually do this and I bet if you pay attention you’ll catch yourself doing it as well.
But who cares? It's just reading emails, and if we don’t even notice it's happening it must not be that big of a deal; right? Wrong. When we interrupt our normal breathing patterns by either not breathing or taking short shallow breaths, we’re creating a stress response in our body, and when we do this over prolonged periods of time, it can have profound consequences on our health. That’s because our brain can’t decipher between the stress of being chased by a bear and the stress of being behind for an important work deadline. To the brain, stress is stress and breathing short, shallow breaths is one of the main ways our brain interprets stress. All this to say that shallow breathing is both a cause of increased stress and a symptom of increased stress responses, creating a vicious negative feedback loop leading people to live in a chronically stressed state of mind. Here are some examples of how detrimental this can be on your health.
Here’s the good news though: The negative health consequences associated with prolonged disturbances in our breath can be easily prevented with just a little awareness and some intention. Simply taking longer, deeper breaths using your diaphragm (vs your chest) has been demonstrated time and time again to prevent the effects of chronic stress. The key word here though is “longer.”
As we recently discussed on the Active Atlanta Podcast with therapist Megan Gillsespie, a big mistake commonly made when we tell people to “take a deep breath” is they do just that! We take this huge inhale and then quickly exhale all that air back out. All the focus is on the inhale, when it should be on the exhale.
When we focus on slow, long exhales instead of long inhales only, what we start to do is upregulate our parasympathetic nervous system, which puts our body into a relaxed state. By simply increasing the durations of our exhale, we can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, decrease pain, improve concentration, and so much more. It’s a true biohack that is free, easy, and incredibly powerful.
So, how do you do it? Do you just take long exhales and call it a day? While not wrong, there’s a more organized and effective way of doing so and it's called “parasympathetic breathing.” You can practice this technique by lying on your back with your feet up on the wall (as demonstrated in this video) and use a 4-7-8 breathing pattern, where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Set a timer for five minutes and repeat this pattern. Try not to fall asleep in the process! Be sure to use your diaphragm instead of your chest when doing this by simply putting one hand on your stomach and another hand on your chest. When you inhale and exhale the only hand that should be moving is the one on your stomach. Once you get the hang of it, feel free to make this less formal and start implementing throughout your day, at your desk, in your car, etc. It doesn't matter where, just make it a part of your daily habits.
At Athletes' Potential, we have a profound understanding for how the body works and how your sleep, stress management, nutrition, and movement practices all coalesce to create a healthier life. If you’re dealing with low back pain, chronic pain, recurring injuries, or a nagging injury that’s preventing you from living life at your highest capacity, give us a call or click the button below and we’ll call you!
We help people just like you every single day. Whether you’re someone who doesn’t know where to start or has had an unsuccessful rehab experience, we’re confident we can help you as well.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.