Every science has a first principle and if you were to learn these first principles the rest of the journey is simplified by a lot. It does not, however, discredit the hard work that must be put in to achieve proficiency in the higher concepts of the science, but it certainly makes the path a loss less cluttered as you can then keep your eyes on the first principle and it will then guide your approach to the mastery.
Similarly, physical exercise is a science and an art. Both, science and art have first principles. The first principle of physical culture is breathing. We can live for about a week or two without food, a little less without sleep, still less without water but that is also a couple of days at least. Breathing, on the other hand, we can hardly survive a few painful moments without it. We are the only animals that use the bipedal locomotion as primary means of going from one place to another. Our bodies have adapted accordingly to facilitate breathing in the upright position and also during walking.
To really appreciate this we are going to need a brief anatomy lesson here. One that will describe the major muscles that are involved in the act of breathing.
Primary breathing muscles
Primary muscles of inspiration – diaphragm, external intercostals.
Primary muscles of expiration – internal intercostals.
Accessory breathing muscles
Accessory muscles of inspiration – (Lot many, Lets count) Pectoral major, SCM, scalenes, Levator scapulae, Upper Trapezius, Serratus posterior superior, Serratus posterior inferior, Latissimus dorsi, Psoas major and a lot more. But those unlisted muscles are not directly involved in the act of inspiration, but their effect can be determined by an assessment.
Accessory muscles of expiration – Transverse abdominis, Internal Obliques, External Obliques
As you can see that the muscles that are dedicated to breathing are many, and
since the muscles in the body are not delineated, anatomy books will have you
believe, the muscles are very much meshed together, and then there's fascia connecting muscles, and muscles groups to one another, what this does is that each system has an ability to influence every other system to some extent. For example, the position of your hip can severely affect your ability to stabilize, or generate force through your arms, and can injure your wrist, or shoulder (Look at this video). Therefore, it is safe to say that any impediment to efficient breathing will produce impediment in some or multiple body movement systems.
Let us look at breathing as a mechanical function. Imagine, a bottle with its base cut off and a balloon attached to it’s base. Attach a small moveable toy fan inside the bottle so we can visualize the direction of motion of air inside the bottle. Start with the fan at rest. Now pull the balloon down, as you pull the balloon down, the fan will start moving indicating air inflow into the bottle. Now release the balloon, it will cause the fan to move in the opposite direction, indicating movement of air out of the bottle. This is exactly how we breathe. But instead of a bottle we have the lungs, and instead of the balloon at the bottom we have the diaphragm.
When the diaphragm contracts the it becomes flat, and increase the volume of the cavity inside the rib cage. This causes the air to rush into our lungs. Expiration is the opposite, the diaphragm is relaxed and it domes up causing the volume inside the rib cage to reduce and increasing the pressure inside the rib cage and in turn forcing the air out of the lungs. There is however a catch, unlike a bottle, the shape of the volume inside the rib cage is not rigid. It can change. Any change in your position can change the volume inside the rib cage.
One activity such activity, that we do on a regular basis for long hours at a stretch, is sitting. Sitting changes the volume inside the rib cage by changing the relative position of hip with the rib cage. When this happens your diaphragm cannot contract as much as it can if the hips were directly under the rib cage, (this is called reduced ZOA*), causing your breathing to become shallow and incomplete. This then starts to have other consequence, that then trickle down in every movement that you do.
The shallow incomplete breathing then makes the body to use any of the above listed muscles for assisting breathing. Also, the rate of inspiration is increased with expiration significantly reduced all to make up for the reduced inflow of air compared to when your diaphragm was working optimally. The muscles that are most commonly used for breathing are chest muscles, upper traps, and neck muscles. Now a cool trivia must also be mentioned here, an average person breathes about 21,600 times a day. Overtime, overuse of neck, chest, and shoulder muscles to breathe can cause them to become really short, tight, and painful and yet this is just the beginning of a long list of dysfunction that can arise from incorrect breathing.
That’s not all though, the increased rates of inspiration combined with incomplete expiration causes the diaphragm to lose its flexibility and become rigid, this in turn puts extra burden on your accessory muscles of inspiration. The diaphragm has it’s fibers meshed very strongly with the fibers of psoas transferring some of its tone to the psoas and in turns making it rigid and tight resulting in distorted body posture that is very common in today's world.
With a distorted position when you started to workout, you don’t automatically improve your posture. It needs focused work. If you randomly start working out without working on your posture you start to make your posture worse, and in the worst case you’re inviting pain and injury in your joints. This is probably why, you have paid full membership for the fancy gym but couldn’t get past the first month, because the body could only bear it for so long.
What’s the bottom line? The bottom line is you cannot move efficiently, and achieve your physique goals without first addressing your breathing issues. And thus here is the first principle of physical culture. Breathe Better!
ZOA* - ZOA or Zone of Apposition is the amount of space available to the diaphragm to descend on contraction.