Q&A Time! Breathing Control in a High Level Skater | Modern Manual Therapy Blog

Q&A Time! Breathing Control in a High Level Skater



Today's Q&A Time is from a regular blog reader who works with a high level figure skater. She asked a question about breathing that was so specific I reached out to Charlie Weingroff and Julie Wiebe, two of my colleagues who I thought could give a better answer than I could.

Below is the question....

"We briefly spoke about breathing last fall after a great post on your site. I wondered if you could possibly tell me your opinion or thoughts specific to a skater’s jump and breathing pattern. I have a 15 year old female skater that skates 6 days a week – serious competitive skater. I see her twice a week and have been seeing her for last 4 years. Now that she is getting into much more advanced jumping, her other coaches and I are addressing all areas that improve her jumps: vertical jump height, rotation and spin, core strength with proper weight distribution, etc etc. I have worked on her with breathing in general, but now I would like to address if there is a proper or preferred breathing pattern to help the jumps. She has no idea and no other coaches have ever mentioned it at all (among other things, but we won’t go there J )

I spoke with one PT I work with about it briefly and nonchalantly, and by the way admits he hasn’t studied or been to any training specific to breathing but I previously sparked his interest and he is going to start with the book you recommended to me by Chaitow. He just thinks there is no way to address breathing and the skating and jump speed are just way too fast to even think about it. From what I have read, researched and had little structured training on, I tend to question this.

We have 4 pelvic floor/Women’s Health PT’s in our clinic and I attended a pelvic floor class with them. The instructor (Gynecologist and Neurologist/surgeon) clearly taught us about the breathing coordinated with exercise to prevent and improve pelvic floor disorders. Specifically we addressed diaphragm and it’s importance obviously with abdominal pressure and the effect on pelvic floor. This info coupled with what is required to get off the ice and more importantly the landing and the shock force created by the ice leads me to believe we NEED to address this in some way. From the class and specific to pelvic floor and me playing around with it on myself (not on the ice) I would say inhale on take off and exhale on landing. I quickly asked one of the Pelvic Floor PT’s in between clients, so was rushed, and she referred me back to the documentation from the course for now till she could get back to me.

She said she finds that the clients she works with have a hard enough time just getting the exercise pattern down that she does not cue breathing and tells them to breath naturally. I was not thrilled with this answer either………and I already knew what the documentation said and class taught and DO incorporate it in my training of clients. I happened to mention to her the book you recommended and she said, why don’t you ask him his opinion. So here I am asking. J I have watched videos and interviews with Dr. Julie Wiebe, PT, whom I know you know, and I think/thought I understand the pelvic floor/piston work."

Here is Charlie's response...

"If the question is how to coordinate breathing on a jump in a non-pathological individual, inhale on the countermovement -- exhale at triple extension or whatever the mechanics are for skating, which I do not know. I do not know figure skating, but I would suggest there is a quick exhale followed by holding breath again during the spinning/gymnastics of the skills followed by another exhale after landing.

In a slow feed-forward mechanism, the learning approach would be in a squat or some less explosive strategy that we believe carries over to jumping.

If this individual can not tolerate this, all I would say is they shouldn't be jumping, and the reason they are failing at jumping should be recording in terms of Movement, Output, Readiness, or Sensory Systems. To assume a pelvic floor problem is always solved with a pelvic floor solution is not best practice. It may still be a Movement "bucket," but maybe it's because of joint position or jumping technique or just a necessary technical skill that is efficient for the sport but inefficient for durable human motion.

From the outside looking in, the text above makes a lot of assumptions that may be correct, but if they are not imminently succeeding, maybe it's not the whole story.

Hope this helps. Not a favorable question though. In my mind, we need much more information."

Here is Julie's response....

"-What is her stability strategy for lower level skills? Like just standing up against gravity (lots of my ladies grip their abs or brace just to stand up straight…not a functional strategy IMHO). But what about a lower level ice skating move? What about movement period? That one moment in her program relies on a lot of other pieces of her movement puzzle.

-What is she getting treated for 2x/wk for 4 years???? - note from Dr E - reader who asked is not a PT, she is a pilates and RedCord instructor, training/conditioning the skater, not treating with that frequency

Without all those answers, taking an educated stab at it: the big issue is that if she is going into a high jump spin maneuver she is likely breath holding to sustain central control while she is making that happen. That is not a bad strategy IMHO for that level of skill, it just needs to not be the only one piece of that control. I actually train athletes to handle and access breath holding well for a big tumbling or jump spin move. In the midst of an intense skill, in the midst of performance it is really hard to work in a conscious breathing strategy. I cannot prepare them for everything they will encounter on the field or ice (ex: a dip in the ice, just as she is about to take off) or ask them to concentrate on breathing in the midst of a game situation. But their brain is way smarter than me.

So my take is off the ice, or mat, or game, I train a brain strategy that links the components of that system: diaphragm, TA, pelvic floor, pressure management timed in with function and repetition of movement patterns (inking them to the rest of the posture and performance systems). Essentially creating and embedding strategies for the brain to have access to while they are in the midst of play. I train both inhale/eccentric control and exhale/concentric control of the elements. And one of the strategies I give them is how to use breath holding well.

So I teach them to "blow before they go" as a way to use exhalation recoil of the TA and PF to pull up and in. And then in that protected, prepared position, I add a breath hold on top of that while they do a jump. My goal there is not a whole container bracing strategy, but my hope is it a deeper and more precise engagement that harnesses IAP and still allows some flexibility in the system for tumbling or spinning, but also keeps the PF as a part of the show and shores up the incontinence (a big assumption from me….but lack of PF control within the system could also look like poor proximal hip control on landing a jump). Ultimately the goal is automaticity. I hope that makes sense. I wouldn’t train breath holding for a recreational runner….sport specific strategies.

We are still learning what exactly the PF is doing on impact as a part of the system, we know it goes thru excursion which is a good thing to attenuate GRF and and control a landing. Best way to train for that is evolving as we start to look at (and simply acknowledge) that so many female athletes leak (and kegel strategies will not cut it for these athletes). But equal numbers can do the same skill without leaking. Gotta learn from both groups. Sorry went to the soap box. But honestly we are still learning (should likely still speak for myself) how to provide female athletes with dynamic strategies for support that allow for high skill without the lower half of the stability system.

Patient inbound, gotta scoot. Wrote quickly, so I hope it was clear. Let me know if you can get any of those answers, or if I can clarify my own thoughts. A few blogs that support my thoughts above and explore further :Butt wink and the Pelvic Floor and IAP: Pelvic Health Friend or Foe

Thanks! Julie

I will give my answer to the question, which is less mechanical than either one of the above great answers on part 2 of this post. Thanks to Charlie Weingroff and Julie Wiebe, two PTs you should be learning from!

Keeping it Eclectic and always learning....





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