For long time readers, you may recall the past few years when I had spinal injuries (in 2018 and 2020), and had hernia surgery (2018 as well).
For those that don’t know: I’ve had “low back problems” for a very very long time, going back to freshman year of high school, when I badly strained my lower back in wrestling practice.
Between ages 15-20, I’d estimate my back “went out” every 3-4 months.
Low back pain was something I lived with as background noise. This pain I somewhat solved for when I began lifting weights (your low back CAN be strengthened directly), and my back pain largely went away for about a year, but being young and dumb I became very overzealous squatting and deadlifting heavy with the barbell. Ironically, I created newer issues for myself.
My back would no longer “go out” randomly, but rather I caused disc herniations multiple times, and developed a chronically tight, stiff, and aching lower back.
Eventually I got smarter in my training, and from about 2016 to 2018, the time I got the hernia, I was pain free.
Fast forward to November of 2018 though, and I get a Spigelian hernia while doing T-bar Row.
Basically I tore a whole tissue in the fascia right near the belly button, on my right side.
I had surgery a few weeks after, but my abdominal muscles DID NOT feel right for months after.
My abs tightened up to the point that standing up straight was difficult, as they were literally pulling me into a kyphotic position. I did dead hangs and stretched to resist this, but they never fully released.
The right side, especially of my rectus abdominis stayed tight, the right hip flexors got tight, and I started to get upper ab cramps, something I never had experienced. In addition, I noticed my ability to rotate started to become hindered.
For lower body exercises, I started to feel everything in my lower back as soon as the weight got heavy. This culminated in January of 2020, when I herniated my S1-L5 disc while deadlifting.
This was despite the fact that I was wearing a belt and had tightened it down. I took a whole year off from heavy lifting essentially in 2020, began using the ATG lower body movements (most of which are single leg) trained with largely calisthenics and weighted calisthenics, and focused on Muay Thai.
Many times my low back hurt (whatever), and my breathing felt “off”. Spinal rotation wasn’t there, and it felt like there was a governor holding back my ability to express power.
The right side of my upper back became chronically tight as well. While my lower body felt strong and my athleticism had been improved immensely, I knew there was something missing that needed to be unlocked still.
Enter the Breath Belt
I’m not sure where I first saw the breath belt, but it was immediately intriguing. I had been listening to various podcasts on the role of the diaphragm in biomechanics and how dysregulated breathing can contribute to pain, but solving for this was rarely straightforward. A mutual athletic trainer I follow on IG mentioned the Breathe Belt, and I had to try it. FYI-The Breathe Belt is NOT a regular weight lifting belt.
A regular belt is solid leather, you tighten it down as hard as you can, hopefully enough to provide uniform pressure, and then after lifting you release it. The resistance is passive. You create internal pressure by essentially strangulating your abdomen and using that to push out against.
The Breath Belt is Active. It is made of elastic material, and when you wear, it provides uniform resistance around the entire abdomen. The insertion of tennis balls in the front or the back act as active release on the ab muscles and spinal extensors. If you have an overactive lower back or ab muscle, the Breath belt FORCES it to relax.
The elastic compression does not match the sheer tightness of a lifting belt, but because the pressure is even and you can readily resist against it by fully inhaling and exhaling, it is far more effective in retraining properly the mechanics.
You cannot rely on it for stability/tightness like you can a belt. It is self correcting that way.
It is basically resisted-breathing for the diaphragm, and it strengthens the diaphragm uniformly.
The Belt uses the most important core muscle of all, the Diaphragm
One of the reasons that low back pain can be so difficult to tackle is that there is no ONE muscle that you can individually attribute it to. You can manually palpate the the rectus abdominis, the obliques, the spinal erectors, etc, you can do exercises for them individually
But you still need them all to work together synchronously when you are moving. And the one muscle that is most responsible for all of them working equally is the ONLY muscle that occupies the entire abdominal cavity from all sides…the Diaphragm.
Prior to the Breathe Belt, I dont know of any device that you could have worn that would train the diaphragm like this. As simple as it is in concept, it did not exist.
The Belt does not just work the Diaphragm, it also releases the overactive muscles
The insertion of the balls act as active release on the OVERactive muscle that have been compensating for diaphragmatic weakness, especially the rectus abdominis and psoas and lumbar spinal extensors. The first time I wore it, these seized up even tighter against the pressure, but within a few minutes they RELAXED for the first time in 2 years. My lumbar did the same.
My core, which had been very stiff, suddenly I had rotation back, the “pulled down” feeling that had existed prior went away. My upper back released as well.
The longer I wore the belt, the more release I had. Taking it off, I felt lighter, my breathing felt supercharged. I could control my breathing vastly better in boxing and Muay Thai, I wore the belt doing stiff leg deadlifts…and it was my glutes and hamstrings doing the work, NOT my lumbar.
This belt WORKS.
Why Does it Work SO WELL?
The belt does not work because of magic. Breathing is not magical. The reasons why it works is fundamentally SIMPLE.
Your CORE is ALL the muscles around the abdomen, not just the abs, not just the low back, not just the diaphragm, but ALL of them.
Why is that relevant? Because these muscles do not necessarily all work together perfectly. Depending on your training history and injury history, you can develop asynchronous relationships between the muscles.
Easy example – Say you very badly strain your lower back, enough where it’s hard to move around. It’s very likely you’ll notice some restriction to your breathing. Why? Because your body is self protecting. If fully expanding and pressurizing the diaphragm muscle makes pain spike, your body will stop doing that.
In the short term, this spares you being in pain, in the long term, it may cause problems in that your diaphragm is gradually trained to NOT fully expand.
This is a very common condition that can cause back pain, and “hip issues” for many many people. It refers to the pelvis being tilted forward, which results in people standing with an exaggerated arch in the low back. This can happen regardless of whether you have big glutes or not (some people naturally have more of a curve in the lower back than others).
APT happens because the body loads the lumbar spine more than the glutes. I believe it’s common with athletes because of the propensity to barbell squat, and if you don’t have perfect structure for the exercise, you have to “stick the butt out” as far as you can behind you, which loads the lumbar and forces it into a lordotic position by default.
The cue of “hips back” is also used often in the personal training world, and this can reinforce the issue.
APT can be viewed as a situation where the pelvis and ribcage are not lining up properly. Optimally they should be level and parallel with each other.
What does the breath belt do for people with APT? It aligns your body into neutral
By putting pressure around the entirety of the diaphragm, the only comfortable way to stand up straight wearing the belt is in fact standing with perfect posture through the rib cage and pelvis. If you deviate from this, you’ll feel uneven pressure in the low back and abs. Like I said before, wearing the belt is self correcting. Once you put it on, your own breathing will align you.
If you cannot tell by now, I HIGHLY Recommend this Belt
If you Would Like to order a Breathe Belt
I contacted the company a week ago, and got into contact with the owner and inventor, Jesse Ohliger.
We set up an affiliate deal and he gave me a discount code that all of you can use, CORTES20, which will take off $32 of the standard price of the belt (the Breathe Belt is $160 normally)
Go to this link to order the breathe belt to place the order. The discount code CORTES20 will be applied automatically to take off $32.
Any questions, please let me know.
I am sincere in stating that this device can provide real pain relief and functional improvement if you are someone with low back pain.
Jesse has multiple videos on his Instagram
And on youtube explaining how to use it once you receive it.