Breath and Rib Training for BJJ
Samantha Faulhaber, FRCms, FRAs, is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and mobility specialist certified by Functional Anatomy Seminars.
See a professional for recommendations that are specific to you and your needs. These recommendations are not meant to replace the advice of a medical professional. Do all movements outside of any pain and seek help to make sure your knees are healthy enough to try any of these movements.
Imagine your favorite training partner lying on top of you with their heaviest pressure in side control. Your breathing is getting more and more labored. Your ribs are feeling uncertain about this situation. You forget what you liked about this person anyway. And if you don’t have the ability to expand your breathing into the one part of your torso that isn’t slowly being compressed into a pancake, you might even contemplate tapping to side control. Nobody wants to tap to side control.
If you can’t breathe well, you get tired. If you get tired, your training suffers. If your training suffers you might get sad. I don’t want you to be sad.
In the vast world of Internet learning, I’d like to give you a simple place to start working on your breath training. I teach clients to treat it like any other mobility problem: if something doesn’t move well, let’s make it move well. If we don’t, the areas that do move will take on more load than they have to and you’ll be less prepared for dynamic movements into unexpected ranges. Whenever a movement exceeds the capacity of the tissue to handle it, you get an injury.
According to Steven Low, author of Overcoming Gravity, the healing rates of the different types of tissues in your body (from fastest to slowest healing rates) are muscles, bone, nervous system, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Meaning if you sustain an injury in the cartilage of the ribcage the tissue will take a longer time to heal than many other parts of you will.
You’re never going to completely avoid aches and pains, but it is possible to work and give our bodies the greatest number of strong options to solve any problem we throw at it. Regular training is the best path to injury mitigation.
Specificity is key. Watch yourself breathe in a mirror with your shirt off and notice where your body expands.
Figure out what moves by testing your ability to change where you see and feel expansion. Are there any spots/areas that don’t move at all?
Once you’ve established where your time may be best rewarded, practice until you see a difference. Rinse and repeat over time to find the next area of focus.
You may be able to access stuck ranges with the external cueing of your hands, use of a belt, light weights, or stretching to find the beginning of a line of tension/restriction to breathe into. This 20 minute video gives you a lot of assessment ideas to play with.
One of my colleagues tells his clients to think of their training like trying to learn piano. You won’t learn much of anything practicing one day per week. My recommendation would be to decide how many minutes per day you can realistically devote to breath training and aim to work on it more days per week than not.
You have to train regularly enough for long enough to make a difference. Gradually increase the difficulty and challenges to teach your body to adapt. The more you do, the better and stronger you will get if and only if you recognize the signs that you’ve been pushing too hard.
Self-assess for soreness and how long it takes you to recover from any training session. There is no over-training, just under-recovering. Figuring out the balance of both in order to make progress is a completely custom, evolving process for everyone. The more you study yourself the more you’ll know about yourself.
If you’re interested in more in-depth breath study, check out Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), Postural Restoration Institute, Blandine Calais books, or Wim Hof.