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Why the ribs down cue doesn’t work and you should coaching exhaling differently
There was a time when peeps (myself included) thought forcing ribs down was necessary to anchor the lower ribcage, allowing for enhanced mobility and improved trunk position.
This time must now pass.
It turns out, the ribs down cue DOES NOT help improve ribcage dynamics and core stability in the way we think it does. If you’ve ever felt cramping, back working/stretching, or have your lower belly pooch out, this is why.
Is there an alternative, then?
Uh, yeah fam. I’ve found coaching the exhale as you’ll see in the video below to be WAY BETTER.
Check it out to learn more!
How biomechanics show the “ribs down” cue is wrong
When breathing, the following should occur in the ribcage:
- Inhalation – ribcage expansion in all directions
- Exhalation – ribcage compression (gets smaller) in all directions
The above actions ensure the lungs fill everywhere, ribcage mobility is maximized, the angels sing, the birds chirp, etc.
However, have you ever seen someone who has a rib flare?
When the ribs flare forward, you lose this segmental motion we should see in the ribcage. Instead, accessory muscles lift the ribcage up and down during inhalation.
Attempting to “fix” this issue, many try forcing the lower ribcage down. Rib flare eliminated, problem solved, right?
Uh, wrong fam.
The problem with the ribs down cue is you are not using the segmental motion of the ribcage to change the shape. Instead, you are just changing the ribcage orientation to give the appearance of the rib flare being gone.
The consequence of this action is that the lower belly will pooch out, and rectus (damn-near killed us) abdominis is more active. This increased muscle activity will limit the pumphandle action of the ribcage, effectively killing any mobility gains you were hoping for.
So if the ribs down cue is not getting what we need, what should we do instead?
I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!
A better cue than ribs down
If segmental, relative motion is our goal, then we need a cue that encourages that action, not an orientation change a la ribs down.
What we should see instead is a soft, slow exhale that encourages a change in ribcage shape, not position.
You’ll know that you have that if you see the following pieces happen:
- The exhale is slow and full
- The abdominal wall gets smaller FIRST
- Then the lower ribcage gets smaller
As we mentioned before, the ribcage gets smaller in all directions during an effective exhale. Sequencing your breathing in this fashion help achieve that.
We can see this when I coach my hooklying tilt progression:
Now sometimes you will have some supreme clientele who struggle making the lower ribcage smaller, but nail the ab wall portion (YAY!). For this, adding a reach in the mix will help facilitate desired lower ribcage position.
If you are someone with a narrower ribcage (narrow infrasternal angle), using a forward reach can help achieve this position:
If you have a wider ribcage (wide infrasternal angle), I’d throw a reach at about 110-120 degrees of shoulder flexion:
Now I hope you have a thorough understanding as to why I’ve moved away from the ribs down cue, and find this exhalation method to be much more effective.
- Ribs down just changes the orientation of the ribcage, not restoring segmental motion
- An effective exhale ought to have both the ab wall and the lower ribcage get smaller
What struggles do you have coaching breathing? Comment below and let the fam know!