Usually in quiet breathing, the diaphragm is the only muscle to work, while in the middle breathing it works together with the intercostals, then the great breathing includes also the spinal muscles extending the spine. Not all of us breath the same way: everyone, for different reasons, develops his own respiratory schema that is characterized by the part of the body that is mainly involved.

There will be then people with an abdominal breathing (common with men), people with a thorax breathing (common with women) and many other variations: rear breathing, front breathing, hips breathing, paradoxical breathing, etc …. You can have an idea of what is your respiratory schema through a respiratory scan:

  • Lay down with the knees folded and the feet leaned against something, allow yourself the time to listen to your own breath without interfering with it. Gradually pay attention to the body part we see moving at each respiratory act. Some will notice movements on the thorax, some on the abdominals, etc…

We can do it the same if we sit on the edge of a chair with our back straight , but it might slightly change because of the different position of the organs into the body.

The schemas vary according to the person involved and describing every single type of schema that we can find is really difficult. The most important thing to know is that it is possible to change them. Through a proper training, possibly with a good trainer, it is possible to learn a new one, get a proper knowledge of ours, improve the ones that are not functional. 

There are several breathing techniques that are used in different domains. Some of these have become essential for a freediving training.


“If you want to learn how to hold your breath, you have to learn how to breath first”

In freediving, the so called diaphragm complete breathing has to be considered the best technique that allows a better use of the lungs volumes.

To be honest the diaphragm always works during breathing, however, as said before, not all breath the same way and often people do not use this muscle properly. 

In order to improve our breathing we should first of all pay attention to the diaphragm and its functional movements, preferring a respiratory schema that fully exploits the abdominal phase before passing to the thorax one.

Here is the description of a simple and basic exercise for the abdominal breathing to practice after having our breath scanned for a few moments:

  • Lay down with the knees folded and the feet leaned against something, then put your hand on the thorax and the other on the abdomen, so by paying attention to the breath you allow the abdomen to expand without massive efforts during inhalation (fig. 4) and to contract during exhalation without involving the thorax, especially its upper portion.
  • It can help to imagine that your belly is like a ball that gets inflated from inside while the air gets in. The thorax is relaxed and is not active, besides the fluctuant ribs and a little lowering of the sternum that follows the motion of the diaphragm. The expiration phase (fig.5), in this case, is only a relaxation phase and it must not be forced: the abdomen will get back because of the de-contraction of the diaphragm.

Some people already use properly their abdomen for breathing, while it is less involved the thorax in it. In this case it would be good to exercise also the thorax with a proper respiratory technique, that is in practice the opposite of the one described above: by inhaling the thorax will expand in all directions, especially its upper and middle portions, with no use of the abdomen that will “collapse” to allow the expansion of the thorax. 

Once that we are able to use the two phases properly, it will be easier to perceive the motion of the diaphragm and we could use the diaphragm complete breathing, the best one to physiologically stock the largest quantity of air and better use the vital capacity. This breathing technique can be divided according to praticalness, in three phases: abdominal, thoracic and clavicles. To be honest every phase is consequential to the other and final aim is to make the breath more fluid and smooth. Let’s see it in detail:

  • The starting position is the same as the one of the previous exercises. This way releases a part of the usual tensions due to the upright posture in relation to the gravity. In addition some deep muscles connected to the diaphragm get relaxed allowing a better motion to it.
  • First of all you need to relax and exhale deeply re leasing all the tensions. Then you start with the abdominal phase inhaling in that part of the body, but constantly checking that its motion it is not forced, in other words the belly should not excessively expand outward. Only the portion above the navel should expand while the zone below it should remain still and with a certain muscle tension in order to avoid the abdomen expands only downward and outward. This control of the abdominal area allows the diaphragm impulse to go straight to the ribs enhancing the following thorax phase.
  • Then you go ahead by expanding the lower and middle part of the thorax in all directions.
  • Then you end up with the clavicles phase by using the respiratory muscles located in the upper portion of the thorax. 
  • The exhalation takes place by going backwards through the phases described above: you relax the thorax, first the upper part, then the middle and lower ones, the diaphragm de-contracts, and so on…

NOTE breathing can take place by:

  1. Inhaling and exhaling with the nose
  2. Inhaling with the nose and exhaling with the mouth and emitting a soft S.
  3. Inhaling and exhaling with the mouth, but in this case you should pay attention to the position of the tongue.

For the exercise describe above it is better to use the first option (nose/nose)and/or the second one (nose/mouth).

A common mistake is represented by mistaking a simple passage of air volumes in the thorax for a thorax breathing. In this case the diaphragm at a certain point stops its respiratory action and follows the thorax, and this reduces the real volume available, because if on a hand the thorax expands in its upper and middle part, on the other hand it decreases in the lower part frustrating the whole operation.

For this reason at the beginning you should focus on understanding and classifying the diaphragm, thorax and abdominal motions.

There are many other exercises according to what we intend to train and improve: the ribcage elasticity, the mobility of the diaphragm, the control of our breathing according to specific rates, etc.

However no article, essay or manual, and many of them are very good, can replace the eyes of a good experienced trainer. Every single person has different needs however there are still a few things we can add about relaxation and safety.

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