Kenzie Rosen-Stone, one of our Personal Trainers, shared with us ways you can strengthen and protect your respiratory system in the face of COVID-19.

With COVID-19 attacking the respiratory system, it is extremely beneficial to develop skills that will improve our respiration. An average person takes 23,000 to 30,000 breaths per day. Often people get stuck breathing in their chests and shoulders, which is called shallow or inverted breathing. This style of breath is common among people who are stressed, anxious, or experiencing the “fight-or-flight” response. To breathe more efficiently, it is helpful to incorporate the diaphragm. The diaphragm, which should be one of the strongest muscles in the body, is one of three muscles that make up the inner-unit of the core. It is essential in deepening the breath and allowing more efficient breathing patterns.

Proper breathing occurs when as you inhale and the lungs fill with air, the belly and chest also expand. On the exhale, the chest and belly should then collapse, as the navel retracts in towards the spine. This breathing pattern allows for the proper usage of the diaphragm to create deep, effective breaths. The inverted pattern occurs when the belly retracts with the inhale and expands with the exhale, creating a shallow and ineffective breath. Spend a few minutes exploring your pattern to see if you breathe diaphragmatically or inverted. If you fall in the latter category, don’t stress – there are exercises you can do to fix it!

If you struggle with diaphragmatic breathing, try practicing this beginner exercise:

1. Lie on your back in a supine position with the neck and shoulders completely relaxed. Place one hand on the navel and one on the sternum.

2. Use the diaphragm to inhale expanding the stomach and lowest ribs. Try to inhale for at least four seconds to create a deep breath. Once the breath has filled the belly and the ribs, allow it to spill over into the chest and collar bones.

3. Slowly exhale while allowing the belly button to draw inward towards the spine. Try to keep the breath balanced, so if you inhaled for four counts you will exhale for four counts. The air should leave the upper chest first and then the belly (the opposite order it filled during the inhale).

*If you are having trouble using the diaphragm during this exercise, you can place a book or a weight on the navel to strengthen the muscle. You should be able to visibly see the belly expanding, pushing the book or weight upward during the inhale.

This exercise should be performed very slowly and for five to ten minutes.