The Lion, the Gazelle, Whiskey, Breathing, and Running Forever
“Every morning in Africa,
A gazelle wakes up and knows that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up and knows that it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are the lion or the gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.”
Are you the lion?
Are you the gazelle?
Have you been both, at one time or another,
Running from something,
Running towards something?
More on that later –
A longstanding study by comparative anatomists has investigated the differences in the running mechanics of quadraped (4-legged) and biped (2-legged) mammals.
Two large differences can be found between say, a lion, and us humans:
Four-legged animals like the lion have astounding top-end speeds. A lion can reach 50mph. A cheetah’s top speed is estimated between 50-80mph.
Us two-legged humans can not reach such high speeds.
Lions (and cheetahs) can only run for short periods of time.
However, humans far surpass lions when it comes to endurance; having the ability to run for hours and hours at one time.
It is hypothesized that way back in the hunter/gather days, humans moved in packs, stalking their prey. As they tracked a deer, the deer would spook, and take off running, only to fatigue after a short while, needing to catch their breath and recover.
Humans did not need to outrun the deer. Rather, they needed to stay persistent, continually running at their slower pace, to eventually catch up to the deer again.
Again, the deer would spook, take off running, fatigue, and stop to recover.
And the humans would continue to run, chasing after their prey, eventually catching up to the deer again; enduring the hunt.
This cat-and-mouse game would continue on until the deer collapsed from exhaustion, as it was no longer able to recover.
What gives humans the advantage over the deer, giving them the endurance to outlast their prey?
Aside from the amount of legs and cortical content, there is a key mechanical difference between say a deer and humans.
A deer’s breathing mechanics is completely intertwined with its running mechanics.
A human’s breathing mechanics is separate but synergistic with running mechanics – and vice versa.
As a deer/lion runs, there is an accordion-like body motion happening as its forelegs and hind-legs take their steps, pulling air into their lungs as the deer is stretched out during their flight phase of gait. As the deer lands on its forelegs, the hind-legs continue forward in the air as the lion’s body compresses, expelling air out of their lungs. Once the hind-legs land, the deer is able to push off, extending its forelegs, leaping and stretching for the next steps and inhalation to then land, compress, exhale, etc.
The running of a deer requires more fuel and oxygen (and the expelling of CO2 – more on that later) than their lungs can keep up with. The deer will quickly go into anaerobic respiration, build up lactic acid, and run out of breath. Supply can not meet demand. The deer needs to stop and recover.
Humans, however, run with far different mechanics. Our bodies are meant to run (it is my contention that they can run forever – with some caveats. More on that later) for long periods of time. Essentially, we can expend energy and recover while running (within certain margins). We are designed to be endurance creatures.
Our running form, leg drive, stance leg, trunk twist (arm motion) have a certain rhythm; their own mechanics.
Our breathing, diaphragm motion, abdominal and thoracic pressures, rib motion have their own rhythm; their own mechanics.
I can take steps independent of my inhale and exhale.
I can breathe in or out independent of what my legs are doing.
A deer/lion/gazelle can not do that while running.
They have their own deal. But they need each other.
Not just for fuel supply to muscle tissue,
But the physical mechanics and happenings of one support those of the other. Symbiotically.
*Here is the key to the foundation of our core power, stability, and freedom*
*If we establish this relationship – build on this relationship – then so much can flow from the strength of our breathing and core function: we can unlock serious trunk stability, allowing the freedom for power and range at our hips, decreasing the overload to our knees and foot/ankles – same with the shoulder, elbow, and hand/wrists*
When things are balanced,
As you exhale with some force, you are specifically engaging your Internal Obliques (IO) to pull down on your ribcage (and up on your pelvis). That downward pull sets an anchor to ribcage, aids in expelling air, and creates the stretch and dome shape to your diaphragm.
The IO creates position for the ribcage (and subsequent thoracic kyphosis) and pelvis (position for lumbar spine and hip joint) – posture for efficient and powerful movement.
The IO creates position and tension for the diaphragm to stretch and assume its dome shape – posture for efficient and powerful movement.
Yes, there are multiple layers of your abdominal wall/multiple abdominal muscles that comprise your core. The Internal Obliques have this key responsibility to establish the position of the ribcage and pelvis; the dome shape and anchor of the diaphragm.
When things are balanced,
When you inhale (particularly through your nose), you are engaging your diaphragm to pull down on its central tendon, decreasing (but maintaining) its dome shape. That decreasing of the dome (with concurrent IO activity/tension) aids in the inhalation of air, tensile loading of IO, and increases pressure in the abdominal cavity.
The diaphragm creates motion on the ribcage and pressure change in the thoracic cavity to draw air into the lungs.
The diaphragm increases tension on the IO and increases pressure in the abdominal cavity – creating the ‘whiskey barrel’ loading of the rest of the abdominal muscles for core power and stability.
A whiskey barrel is comprised of wood planks bound by iron rings. Now, the iron rings act like belts to keep the wood plank structure from collapsing.
In order to keep the wood planks in place, in order for the iron rings to create stability, they need the outward pressure of the actual whiskey from within the barrel.
That is how our stability is created. That is how our trunk is designed to be held stable and produce power. The muscles fo the abdominal wall need something from the inside to push outward, creating tension and engaging the muscle fibers. Liken it to jumping on a trampoline. The trampoline’s tension increases when it is loaded by someone landing on it, pushing it outward (downward).
And once the abdominal muscle fibers are loaded with this internal pressure, they can better participate in that lateral and rotational motion to produce power (and maintain sagittal stability). The intra-abdominal pressure increases the ability for the abdominal muscles to produce torque – the pressure from the diaphragm gives the abdominal muscles leverage to produce power.
The more stability your trunk creates, the more power your trunk creates, the more freedom your hips (shoulders) have at producing/controlling motion, the less over-work for them, your knees (shoulders), and feet/ankles (hands/wrists).
Power production for more speed and, well, power –
Efficiency of energy use (fuel and oxygen) for more endurance –
Joint range of motion and loading for increased motion –
Load-sharing on the muscle chains for increase power –
Joint range limitation, compression, and sheer forces –
Muscle overloading, compensatory patterns, and strain –
Risk of injury.
No, your abdominal muscles aren’t the only stability/power muscles of your body. There are some along your back. And there are some muscles of your hips that create stability for your pelvis/trunk (and some muscles of the shoulder create stability for your scapula/trunk as well).
But your primary stability and power comes from this pressure created by diaphragmatic breathing and the tensile response of your abdominal wall.
Specific diaphragm shape and activity
Specific engagement of the Internal Obliques (vs general abdominal muscle wall activity).
That exhale with some force engages the Internal Obliques to load your diaphragm.
That inhale (especially through the nose) engages the diaphragm to increase abdominal pressure and load the abdominal wall.
That is the foundation from which to build.
Start looking at ways to incorporate this exhale and subsequent inhale into everything.
I’ll end with
A cue for you:
Every so often, every mile or so, or even more frequent,
Give a good exhale out of your mouth, lips pursed
To then inhale through your nose,
Keeping your thoracic spine curved forward –
And if you pair that with the cue to pull your pelvis upwards,
And still with the cue to run with your butt bones as your feet,
And see what happens.
It all starts with the exhale.
This is barely the tip of the iceberg with power, stability, breathing, and
The diaphragm and the Internal Obliques relationship.
We are building out from this foundation,
With more concepts
and practical applications –
Tools that create change;
To endless possibilities.
© Dr Adam Fujita