Muscles used in breathing.

The process of breathing is really complex and so it needs to be stated that we can only scratch the surface of this amazing mechanism. Lets look at some of the muscles that are involved in the process. I wrote an article on ribs. A look at your Ribs.


The Abdominal Obliques. 

The obliques attach the pelvic and abdominal ribs to the pelvis. They therefore form a column into which the diaphragm is able to pull. At the top end of the breath they need to loosen in order to allow the ribs to rise. I have often found these to tighten together with the hips. This is in keeping with the Lateral line – Myofascial trains.

The Quadratus Lumborum.

The quadratus lumborum plays a major role in connecting movement from the lungs and the hips. A portion of the muscle is linked to the diaphragm. A tight ql muscle will inhibit breathing. This will take place if either the muscle or the fascia is shortened.

Other muscles that can inhibit breathing include the sternocleidomastoid, the pectoral muscles and the erector muscles of the back.

It is doubtful that the intercostals play a large role in breathing. They seem to be used more to help sling the torso through each step while walking and running.

The Scalenes.

The scalenes are attached to the neck vertebrae, more specifically, they are attached from C2 to C6. They then attach to the first and second ribs. Do a hard sprint, the type of sprint where you are forced at the end of it to get your hands on your knees. Notice how you pull your shoulder upwards in order to get more oxygen in. Your scalenes are at work now. Asthmatics run the risk of overly using these muscles and can even form a pattern whereby they pull the shoulders upwards while allowing the diaphragm rise up in the chest. People who have developed patterns like that need to be retrained as to how to breathe using the diaphragm.


The Diaphragm.

This is the muscle most used in breathing. If anyone has ever winded you with a punch you will realize just how important this muscle is when it comes to breathing. The muscle is shaped like an umbrella. Think of a jelly fish swimming and you will get a good idea of how it moves. It has attachments that link the muscle to the xiphoid process (base of your sternum), your lower ribs and your spine.

diaph front

The muscle helps your breathing by changing pressures. It creates a negative pressure when it drops down, (you remember Aristotle explaining that, “Nature abhors a vacuum,”) and a positive pressure as it pushes up.

Not only does the diaphragm help with breathing but it keeps organs down below. The liver, stomach etc. all move up and down with the intestines moving with the diaphragm.

diaph under

Closing thoughts. 

Our fast paced stressed society has had a negative effect on the diaphragm. Very few of us ever breathe deeply allowing the lung to empty sufficiently. Also, anxious people tend to store tension in the muscle, preventing it from ever relaxing.

Take time to breathe deeply. Get the muscles that help you breathe released from time to time. Remember to get some exercise- your breathing muscles need it. Your organs need the stimulation and ‘massage’ that deep breathing provides them. Sit upright as you read the rest of this blog. Take deep breaths in and expand your rib cage, all of it, the front, back and sides. Now exhale completely. Do this a few times and you will feel the difference. You breathe in and out 20 000 or so times a day.

“Breathing is the breath of life we cannot live without. The standard truism is that we can live 30 days without food, three days without water and three minutes without air. It is our most pressing and immediate need.” – Tom Myers


Mike Roscoe.
Mike Roscoe

About sbrsport

SBR Sport specialises in Swimming, Biking and Running. On the medical side we are able to do intensive bike setups, leg assessments and soft tissue release. - and/or facebook -
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