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    Articles | breath

    Spine, Shoulder & Breath Health

    By David (Jacko) Jackson

    It might seem strange to think that healthy functioning shoulders, spine and how you breathe can all be related. Let’s delve into a little anatomy to help explain how and why they are interrelated and then give you some exercises and drills to help with the correct functional movement of them.

    Functional Anatomy

    One of the biggest things to think about first is the complexity of the shoulder and embracing this complexity to understand how the spine and your breathing habits are interrelated.

    The shoulder when you point to it without thinking means you’re either pointing to the top of your arm (the humerus) or at the back of your shoulder blade (scapulae). These are two fundamentals that make up the glenohumeral joint which is just one part of the shoulder. Other structures that make up the shoulder include the muscle, tendons and bones that directly attach or join these two ‘inner’ parts of the shoulder.

    There are in fact 17 muscles that attach to the shoulder blade itself, which is a lot of muscles potentially pulling the shoulder in many directions. The shoulder blade sits on the ribcage (which is another type of joint itself) and this is where the thoracic spine comes into play as it’s linked to where the ribs attached into the spine. You can start to see the picture building up of how the spine will affect the shoulder due to the position of the shoulder blade relating to the thoracic spine and then also the affects of your breathing on your rib cage.

    Other joints that are related to the shoulder include the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, sternoclavicular (SC) joint and the scapulothoracic (ST) joint. These are the joints where the scapular meets the clavical (AC), the sternum meets the clavical (SC) and the scapular ‘floats’ on the thoracic spine and rib cage (ST) respectively.

    In short, there’s a lot going on at the shoulder, it can impact and get impacted by many interconnected parts of the body and therefore having an awareness and appreciation that it’s not just where your arm meets your shoulder blade allows us to better understanding how we can better take care of the whole shoulder.

    For the rest of this blog,  we’ll look at each area of the spine, shoulder ad breath (as titled) and give you some practical tip and exercises you can do to help improve each area to your overall function and health can improve too.

    Spine

    The spine houses the second most important part of your central nervous system, if we’re happy to accept the brain is the most important, your spinal cord. Any messages from your brain to any part of your body like your arms, shoulders, legs etc have to have neurons sent down the spinal cord from the brain.

    Therefore the importance of a well-functioning spine that is able to flex, extend and rotate at different parts along the vertebrae rather than being stiff and restricted is key to a healthy spine.

    Below, is a video tutorial from our Movement + Mobility Masterclass programme inside our Virtual Classroom with movement specialist, Ollie Frost. His mantra is “every day is spine day” because he believes so passionately about the effects of a healthy spine.

    Shoulder

    Let’s looks at getting the shoulder moving well through the huge capacity for movement that it has. Because we effectively have more than one moving part, the shoulder has so much capacity for movement. However, we often don’t use it or have control and stability through the entire range and therefore become stiff and restricted.

    So the first starting point once we have the spine moving and able to find a neutral position is taking the shoulders through an active range of motion that we can control. Again Ollie and I are on hand with another tutorial from our Movement + Mobility Masterclass.

    Breath

    Breath work and breathing mechanics is something I’ve become a little obsessed with recently having read ‘The Oxygen Advantage’ by Patrick McKeown.

    It came of the back on many conversations with guests like Tony Riddle and Richie Norton from our Podcast, I’ll never forget Tony Riddle saying,

    Nose is for breathing,  mouth is for eating!

    I loved the simplicity of the message. He made think, where do I take most of my breath from? Through my mouth or through my nose and is this even correct? So I was intrigued to find out more.

    I did have some personal experience of breathing techniques used in yoga and meditation practices,  but I came to the realisation that we never get taught how to breath ‘properly’ and I wanted to do some research and explore for myself what ‘properly’ actually means when it comes to breathing.

    Spine, Shoulder & Breath Health 1

    I was surprised by what I learned but really enjoyed learning more about breath work. I highly recommend the book by Patrick McKeown, there’s a lot of research and practise that he’s done over the year so you don’t have to and he has a very simple model to assess your own breathing and progress as you make changes as well as simple exercises and technique you can incorporate into everyday life.

    After just a few weeks of changing my own breathing I was amazed at the difference it was making and even did a huge 5k Park Run personal best of 19min 16s (I find it very hard to go sub 20mins) with no difference to my training other than how I was trying to breath.

    So the key things I learned from the book (I still recommend you reading it yourself)

    • I was a habitual mouth and over-breather without even realising it.
    • Breathing through your nose (in and out) should be your natural everyday breathing habit (the reasons and benefits of nasal breathing over mouth breathing is explained in detail in the book)
    • Things like stress and poor diet can affect the way you breath so it need to be part of a holistic approach to improving your health
    • Carbon dioxide is an important gas for the exchange of oxygen from the blood into the muscles, not just a waste gas. When we have poor tolerance to carbon dioxide as a result of over-breathing the body can’t get the oxygen from your blood into your muscles as efficiently and therefore we continue to cycle of over-breathing.
    • Normal everyday breath should be slow, silent, through the nose with little movement from the upper chest instead initiated from the diaphragm.

    He summed it all up beautifully in my opinion at a part in the booked where he described 3 stages to mastery of the breath;

    1. Being about to breath so softly that the person next to you can’t hear you
    2. Breathing so quietly that you can’t heard yourself breathing
    3. So softly that you can’t hear or even feel yourself breathing

    Now the final one is pretty extreme but for me it emphasised the point that if you are in control of your breathing and that it’s soft and easy flowing through the nose. It’s not loud and erratic. It’s not overusing accessory breathing muscles around the chest region.

    It’s more relaxing that way, less stressful on the mind and body. Linking back to the shoulder, it’s also not altering your ribcage and thoracic spine position which will give us a happier shoulder complex as well as better delivery of oxygen to our muscles.

    I hope you have found some value in this blog whether you were looking to help improve spinal health, shoulder function or learn more about breath work. If you have any questions or want to share some reflections on anything covered I’d love to hear from you – email me at david@schoolofcalisthenics.com

    Finally please share the blog with any friends that you think would find it interesting and benefit from ready and any of the exercises included.

    Oh yeah, one last thing – we still have a few places left for the Movement, Mobility & Strength workshop on 7th March in London which is a first joint workshop with Ollie Frost (Mobility Specialist) which we are really excited about.

    Hope to see some of you there.

    Jacko

    Join us at our Movement, Mobility + Strength Workshop with Jacko & Ollie [CLICK HERE]

    Movement, Mobility + Strength Progressions (5 hours) LONDON

    Want to work on your Movement and Mobility?

    Learn online at your own pace in the Virtual Classroom with Ollie and Jacko as they take you on a journey to moving better. Included in our V.I.P Memberships or available for £150 one-off payment.

    Click here to see our Movement + Mobility Masterclass with Ollie Frost

    Movement, Mobility + Strength Progressions (5 hours) LONDON 1

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