The solution to decreasing chronic dysfunction discussed in the previous blog, is a simplistic approach. So simplistic, there should no excuse to establish a more functional ventilatory system.

A Balloon.

Some quick facts as to how a balloon can help improve breathing and physiological parameters can be seen below.

  1. Decrease sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activity
  2. Decrease paraspinal activity/ decrease lumbar lordosis
  3. Activates the abdominals, transverse abdominis, and internal/external oblique’s
  4. Pulls rib cage down and maintains your zone of apposition (ZOA)

Now, that is an extremely short and compiled list of some benefits of blowing up a balloon. If you’re interested in learning more elaborate details of breathing with a balloon, I would suggest checking out the Postural Restoration Institute.

When blowing up the balloon for the first time, it will be difficult for most, or as some of my clients would tell you, it remains difficult. However, it immediately begins your physiological paradigm shift of proper ventilation. Muscles that have been inhibited are quickly awakened and called upon to do their job. Simultaneously, the hyperactive “pulling” muscles, are placed in a new found position while decreasing their tone.

A brief overview of proper balloon breathing starts by placing a balloon in your mouth while keeping the tongue on the roof of your mouth. Next, a 2-3 second inhalation through the nose is initiated, followed by a brief pause. Then, a 5-second exhalation period allows the balloon to inflate. The exhalation phase must be sustained long enough to cue the obliques to contract for sufficient rib depression. If followed properly, air should remain inside the balloon until the exercise is completed. Furthermore, the exercise should ideally be completed in the 90/90 position for optimal pelvic floor leverage & position.

Exercise Stress + Improper Breathing = Dysfunctional Patterns

How does all of this relate to exercise? Well, as you may or may not know, exercise is stressful and damaging to the body. The brain is not a fan of the stress imposed on our central nervous system (CNS) as we break our bodies down following a good workout. However, the adaptations after the workout give us the capacity to become healthier, stronger, and perform better. Improper breathing will hinder your ability of optimal performance. It is hard enough to get enough oxygen, blood, CO2, and nutrients to the working muscle during exercise. Now, add poor breathing mechanics, hyper inflated lungs, and a decreased ZOA and you’re leading down a path of no return.

The external resistance of a balloon aids in physiological and physical improvements. The typical hyperactive SNS leads to increase in stress, which results in the increase in cortisol production. Amplified cortisol levels can lead to weight gain, increased inflammation, depressed immune system, and increased cardiovascular disease risk. On the contrary, this is the exact opposite of what we are trying to accomplish in our training. Athletes will notice a decrease in performance, while weight loss populations will begin gaining weight. However, the resistance of the balloon can help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system activity. Anatomically, it allows you to decrease the hyperactive neck and paraspinals, while maximizing the true ventilatory muscles. Physiologically, cortisol and other catabolic hormones begin to decrease to normal levels. As a result, the new motor patterns start to diminish these common chronic dysfunction problems.

Furthermore, balloons can be utilized within an exercise program in a static and dynamic fashion. Ensure that you are able to perform the static breathing patterns prior to moving to more challenging/dynamic exercises. However, once static is established, you can begin to use these in functional movements such as a uni-lateral lunging pattern, rotary stability, squatting, and trunk stability. This will set the foundation to give you the ability to maintain your ZOA when exercising at higher intensity. An example of the balloons role can be compared to breaking your leg. When you break your leg, you are given crutches. Although, the end goal is to get you off of the crutches and return to normal gait. Well, the balloon is your crutch. Utilize it until your brain proficiently engrains the motor pattern in the CNS. Once this is accomplished, remove the crutch.

To sum up, a balloon can be used in conjunction with exercise for physical and physiological improvements. The external resistance of a balloon will train the brain proper ventilatory mechanics. Emphasizing breathing drills with balloon pre and post-workout can have a profound impact on your training and daily living. Establishing these fundamentals will aid in decreasing chronic dysfunctions.