Every Breath You Take

In lieu of weekly wrap up (since all I did for training this week was ride a few miles on the Expresso bike), this post will be a (hopefully not too long) recap of the gait analysis I did on Thursday, which I alluded to in my last post.

Last winter, I started a gait retraining program (you can read my intro post about it here). It involved an initial assessment, then a few weeks of cross-training and learning new exercises and drills to work on my gait, and then… well, I never got to the end, because my ribs decided to revolt and I just kind of stopped going.

If you read my blog at all last year, you more than likely noticed that I spent a lot of time whinging about my various injuries. It wasn’t a spectacular year, and I thought that maybe if I started 2016 off nice and slow, that I’d be okay. And then the niggles started again. So I reached out to my Gait Retraining Guru from last year, Jen, and asked if I could try the program again.

Oof, look at that dodgy gait. I need all the help I can get.

Oof, look at that dodgy gait. I need all the help I can get.

Because it had been a year since I’d last shown my face, I needed to do a new assessment before I could get going again. I was actually happy that this was the case; having done it already, I was interested to see if anything had changed, and I also had some questions for Jen that had occurred to me since I saw her last.

The assessment started with a run-down of the injuries I had in the past year, and it was during that long monologue that Jen developed a theory. Specifically inspired by my rib woes, she decided to check my breathing before she started measuring the strength and flexibility of my legs. She had me lie on my stomach and breathe deeply while she had one hand on my upper back and the other on my lower back. It didn’t take her long to determine that I’m a thoracic breather – I breathe with my chest and not my diaphragm/stomach.

Apparently when you breathe with your chest, it causes your rib cage to rise up and down more than it should, which in turn can throw your body off balance when you’re doing things like running. When this happens with me, the rest of my body, sensing that I’m off-balance because of my exuberant upper body, starts overcompensating to restore balance and protect me, which then results in stressed out muscles, dodgy joints, and angry ribs that never quite calm down.

Aha! Suddenly all kinds of things started making sense – why I always feel incredibly out of breath a startlingly short time after I start to run, why I get light-headed more than I probably should, and why I could never hold notes very long during my brief foray into middle school chorus. It likely all comes down to the fact that I’m not breathing as deeply as I should be.

With that theory in mind, Jen tested my muscle strength (my quads are decent – hey-o Expresso bike! – but my hamstrings border on useless) and my flexibility/laxity (I’m hypermobile, which I already knew… my last assessment pointed out that hypermobile ligaments/joints + not-strong-enough muscles = increased chance of injury), and then I was filmed while I ran on a treadmill.

This was question time. My last time around, Jen showed me how my gait should be and gave me drills to do to get my body used to running that way. I tried to run like this during last year’s Couch to 5K experiment, and managed to do well enough that Coach Steve gave me gait props. However, I found that I had a really hard time keeping that form once the C25K running times started creeping above 3 minutes, and I wanted to know if that was just due to my lack of fitness, and if it was okay to lapse back into my dodgy gait sometimes.

Trying out my new "proper" gait during C25K last year

Trying out my new “proper” gait during C25K last year

Jen had me show both types of running on the treadmill – how I thought she wanted me to run, and how I run when I’m fatigued. It was fascinating to go back and watch the videos and see how utterly different the two styles were – almost-but-not-quite proper form with my whole legs trying to work, and then my tired shuffle that involves my lower legs flailing around while the rest of me more or less stays still.

Jen’s theory was that I struggle to hold form because my muscles aren’t strong enough to keep it up, but also that my suboptimal breathing style is making me fatigued quickly. So she made the decision to change my gait retraining program to a breathing retraining program, at least until she feels confident that I can upgrade to focusing on legs and my core and such.

So I got sent home with some silly-feeling breathing exercises involving straws and hugging foam rollers, as well as instructions to lay off the running for a while. Sigh. I have a 5K this coming weekend that was supposed to be a fun day of Shammies bonding, so we’ll see whether I end up getting to do that or not. At the very least I can go to cheer them on and just join in for the post-race festivities, though if I’m honest the thought of not running it is pretty disappointing. Ah well,  better to do things properly for a change, eh?

How was your week?

Are you a thoracic breather too, or do you breathe with your diaphragm like we’re supposed to? (Do you even think about your breathing? I didn’t!)

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4 thoughts on “Every Breath You Take

  1. This is fascinating to me. Who knew that your breathing could have such an effect on your running? Anyways, I’m very glad you decided to go back, and I really hope that this program can get you back in the running game.

    • Right? It totally blew my mind. I figured breathing would affect oxygen intake and such, but not this sort of thing. Thanks Rae, I hope it helps too!

  2. Interesting! As I was reading this I started thinking about how I breathe while I run. I think I breathe fairly deeply except for my asthma issues. I hope this new route will help and you’ll be back to running in no time! As for the 5k, I would probably run it. But then I am not very smart sometimes. 🙂

    • Thanks Fallon, I hope so too! And at this moment I’m leaning toward running the 5k… maybe not racing it, but giving it the ol’ college try anyway 🙂

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