Hi, my question: since having my 2nd baby (2.5 years ago) my rib cage still seems to be flared up, doesn’t lie flat down and seems to prevent my waist and tummy from getting flat – is there anything I can do to bring them back down again? Thanks! – Jodie Lee Tennant
Jodie was nice enough to provide us with some pictures that she gave me permission to share on here. Have a look so you can see what she is referring to.
As you all can see, Jodie is already quite lean, so excess body fat is clearly not her problem (she expressed concerns that I was just going to tell her to lose body fat! Definitely not the case!)
I suspected that Jodie’s rib flare was due to her abnormal breathing patterns. I have been learning about breathing and breathing patterns a lot over the last 6-10 months, but I am not even close to an expert yet. So I brought in one of my good friends, Zach Moore, to answer Jodie’s question. Zach works at IFAST in Indianapolis, an absolutely awesome facility that I visit as often as I can. IFAST is run by Mike Robertson and Bill Hartman, two brilliant guys and some of my favorite people in the industry (MR is actually my Coach). Zach is an absolutely fantastic Coach and all-around awesome and knowledgeable dude. I am very grateful he agreed to help me answer this question. Without further ado, check out what Zach had to say:
Note from Zach: I did not get to assess Jodie in person. I am assuming that her rib flare is not a structural problem, and therefore, can be corrected.
Thanks so much for your question! First, I want you to know that you are definitely not alone in regard to this problem. I actually work with, and see a lot of people who have rib flares.
The biggest reason rib flares are so common is due to faulty breathing patterns and a poor core stabilization pattern.
Since you did not have the rib flare before your pregnancy, it could be that your breathing and core stabilization may have changed during and after the pregnancy due to higher levels of anxiety and stress, and/or a change in posture due to countering the weight of the baby you were carrying.
First, I want to show you a faulty breathing pattern because I believe it will help demonstrate why a rib flare occurs from breathing in this manner.
As you can see, each time Eric (the sexy model in the video and my good friend) breathes in, his ribs flare out, and even when he exhales they never fully flatten to his stomach. Over time this can contribute to a rib flare and excessive extension in your low back (see pic below).
Therefore, you must first address your breathing. A good breath will involve using your diaphragm, which should be our predominant breathing muscle, and a full exhalation to flatten the ribs.
The simplest way to do this is to lie down on your back with your feet on the wall and knees and hips bent to 90 degrees. Once in this position, place your hands around your sides (thumb on your back just above hip bone and the rest of your fingers on the stomach just above hip bone). Next, take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
If you do this properly, during the inhalation, your stomach and back should expand into your fingers and thumb. This ensures that you are breathing with your diaphragm and that you are in a good spinal position.
When breathing out, try to make the exhalation very long and forceful – it should almost make you cough if you are really breathing all of your air out.
This long and forceful exhalation is very important because with a rib flare you are stuck in a position of inhalation. What this means is that you never fully exhale your air out, and therefore, the muscles that pull your rib cage down are never trained. By exhaling your air out forcefully and completely you will train the muscles that bring the rib cage down.
The video below (up through the 2:25 mark) is a good demonstration of what I want you to do.
If you are not able to perform the breath correctly at first, do not worry – it can take some practice. Just try to relax and keep at it.
Once you have learned to breathe properly by expanding the abdomen circumferentially, it is time to challenge your stabilization demands a little more. What I mean by this is that you should be able to maintain this good breathing pattern (minus the forced expiration) even while you are doing remedial tasks, such as walking, cleaning the house, typing on your computer, etc.
Therefore, our next step is to maintain good breathing and keep a good spinal position, while working on core stability and beginning to move our arms and legs. One of my favorite exercises for this is the Deadbug With Band Pulldown. Below is an excellent video demonstrating the exercise.
Again, the goal is to forcefully exhale and get the ribs down and then maintain that position while extending an arm or leg out. Once the arm or leg is out you are challenged to take a breath in without letting the ribs come up. Perform 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps per side.
A second exercise I really like for clients with a rib flare is a Kettlebell/Dumbbell Pullover. In the video below, I explain how to perform it.
Just make sure to forcefully exhale out all of your air to get your ribs down, and only lower the weight as far as your can without letting your ribs come up. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps.
Once you have mastered these core and breathing exercises on the floor, it will be important to continue challenging the stabilization demands by moving to more difficult positions such as quadruped (on hands and knees), tall/half kneeling (on one or both knees), and eventually standing.
Here are some of my favorites:
Birddog Progression – Begin by raising one arm straight out in front of you. Hold it for 2-3 breaths and then switch arms. Start with 5-6 reps on each side.
Chops and Lifts (can be performed with a band) – Begin by performing these on one knee and then progress to standing. Perform 8-12 reps on each side.
Pallof Press ISO (can also be performed with a band) – Begin by performing these on one knee and then progress to standing. Try holding the position for 20-40 seconds. Make sure to keep your ribs down in an exhaled position.
Start working on your breathing everyday. Shoot for at least 3 sets of 10 breaths throughout the day. On top of the breathing, begin to integrate some of the “core” exercises I mentioned above. Start with the ones where you are lying on your back and then progress to the more difficult ones once you feel they are no longer challenging.
These “core” exercises do not have to be done everyday, but it could definitely help to do so. I would aim for at least 3 days a week of performing 1-2 of these exercises.
If you have any further questions feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out my site at zmoore.com. Good luck, and keep us updated!
Note from Molly: Jodie, I really hope that answered your question! I would love to see you integrating these into your programming. Like Zach said, they don’t have to be done every day, but the more often you do them, the better and quicker your results will come. It would be super cool to see pictures of your body has changed in 2-3 months! Keep us updated!
Hope you guys enjoyed it! Let me (or Zach) know below if you have any questions!