There seems to be a new fitness trend forming. On the last two video shoots we've been on with pro baseball players, the athletes were breathing with a balloon in their mouth at some point during their workouts.
And no, helium and squeaky voices were not involved.
So what's the point of this odd-looking technique?
First, let's take a step back. Athletes—and people in general—tend to develop poor breathing patterns. Rather than breathing with our diaphragm, we tend to breathe through our chest. This is due to several factors, primarily tension in the upper body and poor posture. Breathing through the chest increases tension in the body and limits the amount of oxygen the body can take in, obviously not ideal for maximizing sports performance and recovery.
To correct faulty breathing patterns, the experts at the Postural Restoration Institute devised the balloon breathing technique, which involves breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth into a balloon to make exhaling more difficult. You can see this in action in the video above featuring Tom Koehler, a pitcher for the Miami Marlins.
"The balloon forces him to get all of his air out and use those exhalation muscles and some of those deep core muscles," said Brendan Hayden, director of performance for Coastal Performance and Koehler's strength coach. "If they're able to exhale the balloon correctly, they're in the right position and breathing correctly."
Hayden has Koehler breathe with a balloon in several positions, including quadruped, side-lying and deep squat, to address Koehler's posture issues and breathing patterns.
We also saw balloon breathing on location for Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed's workout.
He first performed an exercise where he was lying on his side while breathing into a balloon.
"We incorporate breathing with [the balloon] so he learns how to breathe with his diaphragm, set his core a little bit better and keep his ribs down," said Joe Hudson, lead athletic performance coach at Advance Performance Academy. "That allows him to keep a neutral posture through his core and keep his lower back in check."
Ahmed also practiced his breathing while in a deep squat position, which Hudson explains will help him learn how his core is supposed to engage in the bottom portion of the Squat, which actually improves hip mobility.
Balloon breathing is an advanced technique that you will only see in top tier athlete performance facilities—for now. But over time, we expect the technique to trickle down into the mainstream and become a common way to learn how to breathe better.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock