We are all aware of the awkwardly cute closed mouth smiley face a baby makes when he messes in his diaper. Have you ever thought to recognize the connection between the grunt that occurs in order to push? It’s a great visual of the connection between the throat and the pelvic floor. I have written about the connection of the diaphragm and pelvic floor here and here, but it’s equally important to take a look above the chain.
The glottis is a valve in the pharynx (throat) that controls airflow in and out of the respiratory system. When open, you can inhale and exhale. When closed the airway is capped off. A Valsalva Maneuver is straining during a bowel movement. This consists of a forced expiration against a closed glottis. Squatting or lifting is another way people will perform this closed airway strain.
original graphic from Sequencewiz.org and customized to include glottis by Remedy PT.
In the clinic, I see this technique as a common compensation pattern to stabilize for a weak core. For example when lifting a baby up from the ground, the person will close off their throat and hold their breath – sometimes grunting. This negatively affects intra-abdominal pressure, pelvic floor action, and core strength. There are studies that show when the respiratory demand is increased, the pelvic floor and deep core muscles show deceased activity.
Stop to think about the strategies you use when squatting and lifting. You may be surprised at the action of your throat. Watch my video here to test your breath connection during a squat. I will also show you how to breathe efficiently in a loaded squat and how to time your breath for a more efficient jump squat. These tips will help you gain confidence in your body as you progress your exercise routine. The next time you squat to lift your baby, a laundry basket, or a kettle bell think about keeping that breath connection open.
As a disclaimer, holding your breath when you squat can sometimes be beneficial for olympic lifters who utilize the Valsalva as a pressure technique to protect their spine. Always consult your physician before attempting a new exercise.