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Why Deep Breathing Isn't Belly Breathing

Updated: Jan 30, 2023

We all know breathing is important, but did you know how you breathe is also very important? Unfortunately, most of the adult population is terrible at breathing.

You might think this sounds ridiculous, after all, you are literally breathing right now and it is keeping you alive.

The truth is, most of us are surviving off of shallow breaths. Most of us are overusing our neck muscles, or subsequently striving for a deep breath that is primarily coming from belly expansion.

What Breathing Should Look Like

If you're wondering how we should be breathing, look no further than your baby or toddler.

Breathing should be 360 degrees throughout the rib cage. Each rib should move on the inhale, expanding through intercostal muscles that are located between each rib, and settling the rib cage back down over the pelvis on the exhale, emptying out all the air in the lungs preparing for another breath.

This means joints where your ribs attach to your spine in your upper back should move, your sternum should lift, and your ribs should expand sideways.

Yes, even during pregnancy!

Your inhale should expand your ribcage 360 degrees, and there should be a symmetrical expansion into the abdomen, which stretches the pelvic floor.

So this should not look like primarily belly distention.

And it should not look like a massive shoulder shrug.

On the exhale, the abdominal muscles naturally increase in tone and the ribs settle on top of the pelvis.

Why It Matters

Breathing is a big deal when it comes to core, pelvic floor, and shoulder strength.

Our primary shoulder stabilizer, Serratus Anterior, concentrically contracts during an inhale, which means if you're not moving your ribs on an inhale, you're probably going to have shoulder pain.

We cannot heal abdominal separation, strengthen the lower abdominal wall, or generate healthy core tension if we are either constantly breathing into the lower abdominal wall and ballooning it out, or experiencing shallow breaths into the neck and shoulders.

Shallow Breathing

Shallow breathing is breathing primarily from our breathing accessory muscles in our neck and shoulders.

These muscles are meant to be reserved for additional support when we are running from the sabertooth tiger.

They are NOT meant to function as our primary breathing muscles. When we are relying on them for primary breathing, we, experience shallow breaths, increased anxiety, neck and shoulder pain, jaw pain and potentially asthma-like symptoms.

This breathing pattern can be the result of habit, posture, or upper abdominal clenching, decreased awareness of rib mobility, or all of the above.


Breathing dysfunction can have a wide range of consequences, including pelvic floor issues, neck and shoulder pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, and abdominal wall weakness.

I start almost all of my clients out with an assessment of their breathing skills and habits.

Breathing well and correctly is critical for our health and quality of daily life.

If you think you're a shallow breather, make sure you book your appointment today!

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