It’s spoken about endlessly in yoga and pilates about how your breathing and posture are directly related…
This teaching is correct and is backed up by the research in the field of biomechanics. However, improving both posture and breathing isn’t always as straight forward as it sounds as very few movement practises go into enough detail to explain how they are related. If we understand the mechanics of healthy function (how humans are designed to function based of evolution and biomechanics), then we are better equipped at producing healthy function in our daily lives. Quotes alone won’t help us improve our posture and breathing, we need to intellectually understand the processes of producing positive change so positive change can be a consistent and conscious experience in our lives.
Pectoralis minor and healthy posture
The pectorals minor originates from the coracoid process (the scapula), attaches to ribs 3,4 and 5 and lives underneath the pectoralis major (separated by the clavipectoral fascia). During concentric contraction (when the muscle shortens), this muscle brings the shoulder girdle forward and down (protraction/depression).
Bearing these functions in mind, if the pectorals minor is ‘stuck’ in a ‘shortened position’ breathing, shoulder and spine alignment will be greatly inhibited. It’s very difficult to quantifiably say why the pectorals minor becomes ‘tight’ in the first place as a human being’s life has too many factors involved to be completely sure (injury, lifestyle, exercise, diet, mindset ect…), but I think it is safe to say that one of the factors that can contribute to a ‘shortened’ pectoralis minor is consistently adopting a slouched posture in daily life. So of course being conscious of this pattern and choosing to adopt a more preferred posture for ideal shoulder alignment is always going to help with producing a positive result at the pectoralis minor, but this strategy may have it’s limits.
If the pectorals minor is in spasm, which essentially means that the muscle doesn’t have the capacity to fully contract due to lack of proprioception (lack of sensory input from the nervous system), then something as simple as a ‘sub maximal contraction’ can do wonders as a first step towards better posture, breathing and shoulder alignment.
What is a sub maximal contraction?
A sub maximal contraction (in the Biomechanics Education world) is when we apply 20% effort and hold it for 20 seconds (repeating this for 4 sets). This isometric contraction (a contraction of a muscle without any movement taking place), also known as an anti spasm technique, can improve the sensory input into a muscle, giving the muscle permission to have the capacity to contract fully again, making the muscle more functional.
How can I apply this to the pectoralis minor?
Let me show you…
Hand on shoulder
- Place your left hand on your right shoulder
- Press your right shoulder forward and down (protection/depression) against your left hand.
- The pressure produced from your shoulder should only be 20% of your maximum effort.
- Because your left hand is resisting the contraction, there shouldn’t be any movement happening, just pressure from the right shoulder.
- Hold for 20 seconds and then relax.
- Repeat 4 times in total (20%, 20 seconds, 4 sets)
- When completed do the same on the left shoulder.
After you’ve finished the anti spasm I encourage you to take the pectoralis minor into a little ‘stretch’ to allow the filaments to fully slide apart. Taking the muscle into it’s full range can help compliment the anti spasm.
This is the first part of a process to improve the function of the pectoralis minor as there are other components such as working the antagonist to the pectoralis minor (the retractors) as we need regain the strength ratio between protractors and retractors of the shoulder girdle. Training and conditioning the antagonist to the pectoralis minor will be out on Thursday 2nd March –Better Posture & Breathing With This One Simple Exercise (Mid Trapezius/Rhomboids) Part 2 and we will go through the next stage of returning the muscle back to healthy function.
For now practice the anti spasm technique for the pectoralis minor as I promise it will be fantastic for you posture and breathing if this muscle is in spasm and you’re constantly adopting the ‘slouched shoulder’ posture.
Thank you for reading 🙂
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