Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

The question: I get winded easily when I work out, and I have really bad neck and shoulder pain. I have been told this is because I don't breathe well. How do I improve my breathing? I want my neck pain to go away!

The answer: I know it can seem odd having to relearn something as natural as breathing, but you are definitely not alone in your quest.

Clients – ranging from newbie exercisers to athletes – regularly tell me that their physiotherapist wants me to help them relearn how to breathe. I have also had to tweak my own breathing.

Story continues below advertisement

Ideal breathing is often referred to as "three-dimensional diaphragmatic breathing," where the body is able to pump more air throughout itself.

Unfortunately, due to stress and improper posture, people can become "chest breathers," which means they breathe primarily into their chest and neck. This leads to their neck and shoulder muscles becoming overworked, and relatively less air being pumped through the body,

To breathe better, start by lying on your back. Place a light book on your stomach, with one hand on the side of your waist so that your fingers reach slightly under your lower back. Place your other hand on your upper chest and neck. Breathe into your diaphragm, expanding the air equally into the hand that is placed on your side and into your stomach. The book should rise up slightly toward the ceiling and the hand on your chest should not move. The image I use is an expanding umbrella: Aim for your midsection to expand in three directions like a well-functioning umbrella – not like a wind-beaten umbrella that only expands in one direction.

Once you can breathe properly on your back (it's a great first step, but is not very functional) practice in different positions. Try proper breathing while on all fours, standing, sitting or walking.

Trainer's tip: If you are not sure what type of "breather" you are, test yourself by standing in front of the mirror. Breathe in and see what happens.

Your torso should expand slightly, but your chest and neck should stay fairly relaxed. If, as you breathe in, all of the muscles pop out of your neck and your chest rises before your torso expands, you are probably chest breathing (and possibly breathing too aggressively).

Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies