By Tom Garbett

Strength & Conditioning Coach

Pain Free Performance Specialist

Pain Free Performance – pillar stability + breathing.

90% of us currently have some sort of pain or discomfort. This could be anything from a niggling injury, repetitive lower back twinge, pinching shoulder when you swim?

But why? And what can we do about it?

We are not Symmetrical.

To start with the majority of things are made standard, the barbell in the gym, your bike, everything is symmetrical and well unfortunately, you are not. On average people have a 12-15% anatomical difference between their left and their right hip, there’s upwards of a 65% difference side to side of the gleno-humeral joint (bony structure of the shoulder joint). When you go for your bike fit with Total Bike Fit or your gait analysis and you start to see how you move you will be surprised at some of the differences even if you feel you’re pretty symmetrical. That’s why we go for custom insoles in bike shoes, saddle pressure mapping, it’s to help you move how YOU move. Within strength sessions, everyone moves differently, you can’t expect to squat in the exact same movement sequence as Mr Motivator next to you in the squat rack. You move how you move. In later articles we will look more into this and other areas of pain free performance.

As a pain free performance specialist, we have key training systems that allow us to work and build strength pain free. In this article we are going to look at breathing and pillar stability, which we look at before even starting a session.

Breathe using your diaphragm

We live in a world and society where we have forgotten how to breathe, brace and move properly. Now we don’t know if cavemen used to get injuries, but we do know that they knew how to move well enough to survive. Nowadays we have everything at our fingertips, everything is so easy, the majority of people have desk jobs and none of it helps us to move better. Even as kids we’ve all thought or been told to “suck it in” right? Going swimming with school or going on holiday, keep your stomach sucked in to look better and all that, we’ve all been there. But this issue with this is you are restricting your ability to breathe properly from the diaphragm, we need to revive the bellies out era, and breathe using full 360-degree expansion through the stomach and diaphragm to breath properly. You don’t see the world strongest men walking round sucking in their power belly, and these guys know how to brace and well they are obviously as strong as can be.

When I refer to the core or pillar, most people will automatically think six pack or abs, when actually the core is from your shoulders to your hips including the glutes.

What is Pillar Stability?

Pillar stability is your ability to lock down ball and socket joints (shoulders + hips) through co-contraction of the larger muscle groups in order to utilize the smaller muscle groups.

I bet you didn’t know that tight lats and tight hip flexors can actually be caused by not breathing properly. Your lats, psoas major (hip flexor) and diaphragm all have connections around the T12 vertebrae, if you are not able to breathe and activate your diaphragm properly, your hip flexors and lats are going to be there to compensate and start doing more than one job and act as stabilizers for your core. The diaphragm is the “roof” of our internal core.

So, are your hip flexors or lats actually tight or is it a weakness of the core?

Typically, it’s a weakness of your core, and that doesn’t mean your ability to knock out 50 crunches no sweat, but your ability to truly lockdown and maintain a powerful foundational position with a neutral spine and pelvis, whilst activating the glute to drive your body forwards.

Throughout our strength and conditioning sessions this is a key part of the process, locking down the pillar in order to move better and stronger.

In the next block of strength work we look to progress this further by taking some of our exercises to a half kneeling position in order to truly work our pillar stability while enhancing our movement mechanics.

Could your injuries or niggles be caused from a weak core? Are your muscles having work extra to compensate?

How can we start to learn how to breathe properly?

Lie on your back with your knees bent (sort of a sit up starting position) place your fingers on the front of your obliques, and thumbs around the back (hold onto the “love handles” as some like to refer to them as…) Relax your head down and take long slow breaths, 3 seconds in, 3 seconds out. Can you feel your fingers expanding 360 degrees? Or do you breathe from your chest? Sometimes it just takes a little practise, but we need to fill the stomach and then allow the chest to fill, not the chest first. Once we learn to breathe efficiently, we can learn to lockdown our pillar.

Why is this even relevant to triathlon performance? Well, the structural foundation to excelling is having a strong underpinning core and pillar stability that you are able to build your performance and energy systems from. Good pillar stability is going to help you move faster with more efficiency, be able to lift heavier and get strong, while reducing the risk of injury as an athlete. All of which will in turn allow your body to train more to become the best athlete you can be. Imagine having a strong enough core that when you ride in TT position or are heading into the final third of the run in your IRONMAN, your core is still functioning the way it should allowing you to be producing the amount of energy you need through the limbs that need it, keeping you efficient straight through the finish line. We want that muscular stability, if we don’t have it our body starts relying and hanging onto the bony structures.

The 3 S's

One of my main goals as a strength coach for you triathletes is to enhance your motor control, which is your brains ability to talk to the rest of your body. Or broken down, leads me to the 3 S’s which we want all athletes to master in order to change their triathlon performance:

Sequencing – Being able to organise the limbs in the correct order around proximal stability.

Stability – To allow for distal dynamic movement when the pillar is locked down and stable.

Smoothness – For you to own every portion of the movement. Whether that is gym exercises to pedal smoothness, the king of smoothness has to be marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge. When you watch him run, you know he his owning every stride and nothing is going to waste.

To Conclude

When we start our swim, bike, run, strength and stretch sessions, we go into them with a purpose and every session has its reason for being there for you.

Go into your sessions with intent to be better than you were yesterday, looking to own every movement.


Need help with your strength and conditioning or locking down the pillar? Send me a message I’d be happy to help.

Tom Garbett.

Strength & Conditioning Coach. Pain Free Performance Specialist