There are a lot of people out there who are full of crap, and then there are those who are constipated. Wait wait, is a rehabilitation and strength and conditioning specialist about to talk about pooping? You got it!
The training and rehabilitation world is so keenly focused on nutrition and exercise, but rarely focuses on an individual’s ability to eliminate waste. Health and the ability to poop go hand-in-hand. Think about an organism that keeps accumulating waste – what will happen? Immunity, efficiency, metabolism, nearly every function of the body will be compromised in one way or another! The organism’s potential for performance will never be fulfilled because its ability to eliminate waste is far from “elite”.
How Often You Should Go? What If You Can’t?
You may be thinking “I poop once every day, I am good!” Wrong! How many times should I be pooping per day? Think about how many times you eat during the day, add them together, and that is how many times you should be passing solid waste. (New term for WODs: EMAM = Every Meal After the Meal)! The majority of the population does no such thing. Why are there so many sick people, injured people, overweight people, mental issues, poor performances, etc? One huge reason is we are full of crap – cellular waste, that is. We should poop after every time we eat, and the actual act of pooping should be fast and easy; it should slip right out. Grunting noises should only be heard from an infant who was just introduced to solids.
So what is the issue? Why am I unable to eliminate waste the way my body was intended? There are many other factors that will not be discussed in this article that contribute to an inability to poop. Diets too low in fiber, use of certain medication, dehydration, processed foods, illness, and cancer. In this article we are focusing on your responsibility to give your body the advantage in processing waste by using proper position, muscular action and breathing that will allow you to efficiently eliminate waste.
How Bad Posture Makes It Harder To Bake Brownies
Let’s first talk about position. When we are in the gym training there is hopefully a huge emphasis on the appropriate position and execution of an exercise but what happens outside of the gym the other 23 hours of the day? Do we focus on position? I would guess NO considering the number of constipated people in the world.
Consider the typical desk job. If you ever back-squatted in the position you sit in at your desk, do you think you’d perform well? The answer should come easy. This same line of thinking applies to defecation. If you sit that way for 8 hours of the day, you are probably not an elite athlete, not to mention a good pooper. In order for the body to function optimally, muscles need to work together and be at the appropriate length. Typical desk posture for most is a negative influence and a huge contributor to constipation. Why? Our body is constantly learning from the information we give it. Posture is an important bit of information that our brain uses to tell our body what it should be doing and how it should be doing it.
Take a look at the position in the picture below. Many things are going wrong here, but the biggest issue is the effect the inappropriate position is having on breathing and two specific muscles, the iliacus and the psoas (also known as the iliopsoas). We will talk about the muscles first. These muscles are connected to the spine and the leg (psoas) and the pelvis with the leg (iliacus).
The iliopsoas is often a trouble maker for people who spend much of their day seated or bent over. These muscles originate on the interior surface of your lower spine as well as the inside surface of your pelvis, then they run down and through the inside of your pelvis and insert onto your femur. Their position and role is what gives the upper body and lower body the ability to work together efficiently but, if compromised because of inappropriate posture and breathing, these muscles can become a huge source of pain and yes, CONSTIPATION.
As you can see, the iliopsoas runs down through the inside of your pelvis. They intersect with the pelvic floor muscles. Muscles of the pelvic floor allow you to both ‘hold it’ when you have to pee and keep you from losing your guts out of you bottom during a max squat or clean. If certain muscles don’t work properly (iliopsoas), the brain will find another way to get the job done. This is called compensation. If my iliopsoas is compromised due to crappy posture, other muscles have to compensate for it. When muscles of the pelvic floor compensate because of what the iliopsoas is doing inappropriately, they can inhibit your ability to poop.
Optimal Posture & Breathing for The Elite Poop
So what position will allow my muscles, particularly my iliopsoas to be at the right length so I can poop? Consider how you sit: do you cross your legs, roll on the sides of your feet, flare your knees outward, slouch over the table or desk, or tuck your legs under the chair? All of these are constipation cues. One simple sitting position will fix your problem. The keys are right angles and straight lines.
- Sit feet flat on the floor, shins vertical, knees tracking in line with the hips, neutral pelvis, sternum elevated, shoulders relaxed, and head in-line with spine.
It is that simple! And, if you can, find the shortest toilet in the bathroom! Giving birth requires a deep squat position, as does pooping with maximum efficiency. In Asia it is common for the toilet bowl to be sunken into the floor so the user has to be in a full depth squat for doing their business!
Now for Breathing: We are meant to breathe with our diaphragm, also known as ‘belly’ breathing; but, if you watch people breathe, I bet you will scarcely see them filling their belly. Nearly everyone fills their chest. Life without oxygen is death. When you do not fill your abdomen via the diaphragm when you breathe, you leave out the lower 1/3 of your lungs that is waiting for oxygen. It is like cutting your life short by 1/3!
The appropriate way to breathe is simply as follows: Inhale through the nose filling the abdomen (as full as possible), pause, exhale through the nose, pressing the air out with your diaphragm. Now try it! Do it sitting hunched over your desk, can you fill your abdomen? Of course not.
Why is that and why would Diaphragmatic breathing help me make my bowels Elite?
- Generally: Every time I inhale, a certain set of muscles lengthen, allowing my abdomen to expand and fill with air. When I exhale, the same group of muscles contract to press the carbon dioxide out. If my position (what we talked about earlier) is compromised by poor posture, the muscles will never expand to enable me to get enough air.
- Specifically: The diaphragm (as seen below) is a dome shaped muscle that is used to expand the lungs. When you inhale using your diaphragm, your lungs should be pulled down into your abdomen and your belly should inflate, filling with oxygen. Also, the diaphragm is in fact connected with the iliopsoas! They have a common origin on the vertebrae where your ribs begin. These two intertwined muscles receive signals from each other and work with each other’s tension, allowing you to breathe and sustain the appropriate amount of oxygen! Pressing the air out with your diaphragm (instead of simply puffing it out), will also allow you to expel the appropriate amount of carbon dioxide. If you do not breathe with your diaphragm, the iliopsoas compensates for it and can get tight. This equals compensation and constipation.
So, a combination of posture and breathing will allow you to get rid of your crap. When we correct our posture to be upright with a neutral pelvis and breathe using our diaphragm, our body now has a chance to regulate muscle tension and balance carbon dioxide/oxygen levels. The action of “belly” breathing keeps the muscles of the abdomen working correctly and gives my internal organs a chance to move the way they should, causing my waste to get ‘loosened up’ and expelled without much effort.
Bad posture and poor breathing creates tight muscles, causing an inability to eliminate waste – CONSTIPATION. It is that simple.
The role of breathing and constipation is important. There were volumes of work done by Soviet physicians experimenting with breathing patterns and bowel movements with their patients. Rather than learning Russian and finding their research, if you would like to work on your psoas, standing and sitting properly are the best things you can do. There are a myriad of exercises out there for your psoas, but the biggest bang for your buck will be found in your posture. For some more information, support and exercises, read “Back to Basics, Posture and Why Things Hurt” on Eat To Perform.
Thanks for reading, I hope you become “Elite!”
-Tyler Kleinhuizen, CSCS
Tyler is the owner and CEO of Evo UltraPerformance, a performance and rehabilitation system that believes the human is a miracle and strives to help each person achieve or recover their ultimate goal faster and more completely than conventional means. (Edina & Coon Rapids, MN; www.evoultraperformance.com)