Subtotal: $0.00

No products in the cart.

Give the Gift of Z-Health

$100 Gift Card

with Select Purchases

Invite a Friend & Save!

Earn Z-Bucks and Receive Exclusive Referral Pricing

Reserve Your Seat


Webinar with Dr. Cobb

Episode 255: Step Ladder Breathing for Brain Fuel & Performance

Video Highlights

- Why respiration matters.
- Basic drill explanation.
- Drill options explained.

Today we’re going to be looking at one of my very favorite breathing exercises. I call is stepladder breathing. You’re going to love it.

If you’ve been around Z-Health any length of time, you’ve been watching the blogs, you know that we put a big emphasis on respiration. Obviously brains need fuel, and one of the best fuel supplies you can provide them is excellent breathing.

One of the things that we talk a lot about are breathing mechanics and what you’ll find out in our program is that we’re not completely sold in one direction or another because if you read a lot about respiratory training some people say you need to do a lot of belly breathing. Other people say shallow breathing when you’re not in motion. In essence what we tell people is that we want you to have respiratory competency.

Respiratory competency, the way we describe it, means that if you need to belly breathe and relax, you can do that but if you’re out for a hard sprint, you need to use the full lung field including upper chest breathing, which a lot of people tell you to avoid. You also want to be able to do that.

You have muscles that are designed for inspiration, inhaling and exhalation.

What we want to make sure we do regularly is that we train each of these sets of muscles in different ways.

Now if you look at again at a lot of breathing systems a lot of them are taught in lying down positions or seated or standing, and that’s awesome, but one of the things that I love to get people to focus on is what I call stepladder breathing.

Now stepladder breathing accomplishes a couple different important things. Number 1, we’re going to work on starting low and working our way up into the chest increasing our respiratory competency because we’re going to inhale all the way up, and we’re going to exhale all the way up, focusing on one side of the body.

That’s the stepladder process. The second thing that we focus on in this one is bending this way.

If you look at a lot of exercise programs lots of people are doing side planks now, and they’re trying to strengthen the sides of the body but in general whenever we watch people move one of the least mobile motions that we see people have is lateral bending, head going sideways, body going sideways. In this exercise we combine both, and the results are often quite spectacular.

Let’s get started with stepladder breathing.

Step number 1 is we’re going to work on breathing into one side of the body. Now I know that you can’t really do that, but you can focus your efforts on one side. I’m going to start on my right side and what I’m going to do is I’m going to put my hand on my lower abdomen. I’m going to take a couple breaths in and out. I want to feel my abdomen expand on the inhale, compress on the exhale, so we’ll just do that a couple of times. Now feel that motion. Next if you have the mobility I want you to put one hand on your lower back and the other hand on the lower abdomen.

Now you’re trying to feel a three-dimensional expansion so whenever you breathe in your want to feel your abdomen going forward, your back expanding a little bit and maybe even a little motion out to the side. Think about filling the balloon of the lower abdomen. You can do a couple breaths there, and then you’re going to do the same process in your lower ribs. I’m just going to go ahead and skip over a couple of these.

We’ll go to the three-dimensional version, so one hand on the lower ribs, another hand on the lower ribs and back. Take that deep breath in, fill the balloon. You’re trying actually to drive the ribs out to the side a little bit as you breathe. One more. Good.

You see I close my eyes sometimes. It helps you focus internally to figure out what is it that I’m trying to accomplish.

Then our last step we’re going to actually come to the upper chest. You have some muscles up here, your pectoral muscles even that attach to your ribs and help lift your ribs in breathing.

One hand on the upper chest. Now if you can reach your shoulder with your opposite hand you can do that. If you can’t, lean against a wall. Get some pressure against the shoulder blade, a couple more breaths in and out. Again, just work on expanding that upper feel. Awesome.

Now we’ve done lower, middle and upper. Now for the stair step. Again, we’re just doing this in standing, so we’re going to start at the lower portion. We’re going to go to the lower ribs and then the upper ribs, and you’re going to try to do this in a chain. Start lower. It feels really, really good, and you may be feeling actually some interesting stretching sensations in different portions of the right side of your body.

Female athlete on track bent over with hands on knees recovering her breath.

Once you have the basic stair step in place, now it’s time to add in the bend. I start off with an easy version of this because if you’ve had back issues or other things I want you to take it really easy.

You’re going to get into a neutral stance, you’re going to bend your knees slightly. I like to have people tuck the pelvis a little bit as well. Now I just want you to do a light bend away from the side that you’re going to fill up. If your stepladder is on the right, you’re going to bend on the left. Bend to the left, start low, next, next. Then on the exhale reverse it, walk back down the ladder. Then come back up.

That may have been a lot more intense for you. When you get into this lateral bend position you can feel a lot of different again sensations. You may feel some stretching sensations or other things going on, perfectly normal and okay. You want to do maybe four or five breaths there and then get on with doing the opposite side.

Now version three is a lot more intense, and that’s why I’ve been standing by this rack the entire time because in version three what I’m going to do is I’m going to get into my neutral stance. I’m going to bend my knees. I’m going to tuck my pelvis.

I’m then going to bend sideways, reach up and grab the bar. Once I grab the bar I’m going to push my hips out to the side a little bit. This increases the stretch a lot in this area.

When you start off with this particular version make sure that your breath is a little less. Don’t try to overfill as you walk up the ladder, so that you can get accustomed to the position. Again I’m going to be here. I’m going to get that stretch in. I’m going to take that deep breath. Start low. Again, I’m working up and down the ladder.

All right guys, let’s summarize stepladder breathing.

Step number one, we have to learn how to breathe on one side of the body from the lower section to the upper section. Step one is practicing two or three breaths just into the lower abdomen on the front. Then the lower ribs on the front. Then the upper ribs on the front. Once you’ve done that you then go back and do three-dimensional breathing.

You go back to the lower portion, you put a hand on the front and a hand on the back, and you try to expand three-dimensionally like you’re blowing up a balloon.

Remember we’re only working on one half of the body. You do that on the lower section, the middle section and then the upper section, if you can reach, you do it with your hand. Otherwise, one hand on the front, lean against a wall.

Those are the basic breathing practices.

Once you’ve done that, you then try and do full stepladder breathing where you start at the lower section, you breathe up, up, up, up into one side and then walk back down the ladder. That’s done in a neutral stance. From there you’re going to bend your knees, tuck the pelvis. You’re going to bend away from the side that you’re breathing into. Repeat your stepladder two or three times.

Then finally if you’re feeling like you’ve got some decent mobility you’re going to move over until you can grab onto something, a pull-up bar, the top of a door, something comfortable. You settle into that, you push your hip out a little bit, get more of a stretch, and then you practice your breathing there, and that’s it.

Those are your basic steps for stepladder breathing.

Give it a shot.

Do it on both sides of the body and if you are familiar with Z-Health principles of assessing and reassessing, check your motion before and after. Most people respond super, super well to this drill.

The other big thing I want to mention is after you’re done this if you have an opportunity, take a walk with your new found mobility and let it settle in.

If you have any questions about this guys, let us know.


Explore articles by
Explore articles by category

Upgrade Your Brain!

Biggest Sale of the Year

Signup to receive the latest training resources

Also receive a free copy of our recommended reading list