Danny Adams is a Sports Chiropractor and mobility specialist at the Bristol Chiropractic Sports and Family Clinic on Kellaway Avenue. We asked him about the importance of breathing correctly while Nordic walking.
“Nordic walking is a superb aerobic exercise, especially at higher intensities, but all aerobic exercises require good breathing technique. Bad technique can lead to a variety of potential problems such as decreased energy levels, headaches, back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain.
Test your breathing technique now – put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, take a deep breath in and feel which hand moves more. If your chest moved more than your belly it may be that you are ‘shallow breathing‘.
A lot of us are not utilising our breath to our full capacity. This is because of underutilisation of the main muscles while breathing. The main muscles responsible for breathing are found at the top and sides of your abdomen, the diaphragm and the lower intercostal muscles.
One theory for humans not using the diaphragm sufficiently is due to our evolutionary change in diet. But modern day living such as sitting for long periods, anxiety and stress also contributes to not correctly contracting our diaphragm when breathing in. More recently an increase in the number of individuals suffering from respiratory illnesses has contributed to even more people struggling with their breathing in general.
When we breathe in, our belly is supposed to get bigger. This occurs because as the diaphragm contracts, the contents of our gut get compressed and our abdomen enlarges. If we do not allow this to happen, then our body will use our accessory neck and shoulder muscles for breathing instead.
Also by overusing the accessory neck and shoulder muscles to breathe, they become very tight. This can cause lots of tightness, pain and headaches as a result.
By underutilising the diaphragm, you also run the risk of your back getting weaker. This is because the diaphragm is one of the most important back stabilisers. Other muscles in the back (such as the ones in the lower flanks of your back) take over the role of lower back stabilisation and start to become overworked, tight and uncomfortable.
As well as this, by not fully utilising the diaphragm, the lung’s ability to pull in air is decreased. Air is pulled into the lungs using negative pressure that is created in the chest by the contraction of the dome shaped diaphragm downwards (like a bellow sucking in air).
How to improve your breathing technique
A good starting point to help improve your breathing technique is to practice daily, in the morning while lying down. 20 deep breaths – in for 4 and out for 8 – through your nose into your abdomen, allowing your abdomen to expand and not allowing your chest to move, ‘big belly breathing’.
Alongside this, try to breath out sideways into your flanks, ‘big barrel breathing’. For extra benefit, practice holding in a handful of these breaths for various lengths of time to really get the diaphragm working.
To apply this while Nordic walking, check your breathing either every 10 minutes or by using distance. When checking your breathing, you can check your overall Nordic walking technique as well.
You can find our favourite Nordic walking poles here and if you’re looking for our advice on good kit here’s our recommendations: