Planks and Breathing


By: Matt Malloy

Since my time learning about breathing, there has been the notion that you should count how long someone can hold a plank variation in breaths, not seconds. But how? If you understand the principles behind the breathing exercises, you know that they are centered around getting air out, not necessarily drawing more air in, although I would consider inhalation essential to client retention….and human life.

Air In:

It is without a doubt very important to always breathe in through your nose. “Mouth-breathing” is considered a sign that your heart rate is too high and causing your body to enter into (or continue) an excitatory state. Mouth-breathing is also considered a precursor to exercise-induced asthma. When you breathe in through your mouth rapidly and excessively, you are developing the accessory breathing muscles of the neck, shoulders, intercostals and traps. When these muscles develop, they can become dominant over deep core muscles that help you get air out passively.

Air Out:

Hyperventilation, or excessive intake of oxygen is a big problem among Americans. Why? It means we rarely enter a state of complete exhalation. Why do you think yoga is so popular? Putting emphasis on breathing decreases neurological tone and makes you feel relaxed, a feeling all too unfamiliar in this chronic-stress induced environment. In order to breathe properly, you need to exhale every ounce of air you have. To do this you have to turn on your external obliques, these muscles will bring your ribs down towards your hips and help your diaphragm push the air out.


If you manage to turn your rectus abdominis (6 pack muscles) on during a state of exhalation, you will not be able to fully contract and utilize your external obliques.

So What Do You Do?

Recently, instead of planks, we have been using PRI’s Modified Belly Lifts or a PRI Wall Squat that is tailored for people who find the MBL to be too challenging. These exercises, learned from PT Scott Kosola from The Point Physical Therapy, keep the abdominals soft, engage the external obliques, flex the thoracic spine, and turn on your lower traps. It’s important to note that if you can’t turn on your external obliques, all of those lower trap and scapular exercises are useless.

When done correctly, this exercise can have an immediate influence on an individual’s shoulder flexion, horizontal abduction (tight pecs) and shoulder blade function. It is time we start to recognize them importance of the external obliques in function of walking gait, standing and overall human movement.

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