The intercostals are short muscles that run between your ribs and come in two varieties: the internal and external, both involved in respiration. The external intercostals elevate the ribcage and aid in inspiration, while the internal intercostals depress the ribcage and aid in forced expiration. Your intercostals are worked every day by simply breathing, but like every other muscle in your body, they need to be challenged and stressed beyond everyday use. Regularly exercising your intercostals will keep the muscles strong and healthy and make breathing during your workouts more efficient.
The barbell pullover is an excellent exercise for developing flexibility and strength in your intercostals. Use only light weights with this exercise, while focusing on proper technique and breathing. Lie face up on a horizontal bench and hold a barbell vertically above your chest with a shoulder-width overhand grip. Expand your chest as much as possible as you inhale and lower the bar behind your head, maintaining a slight bend in your elbows. Exhale as you return to the starting position. Complete two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
This intercostal muscle exercise is a basic exercise that effectively works the muscles in and around your ribcage, primarily increasing thoracic expansion. Lie on a narrow horizontal bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing in and your arms extended with a slight bend in your elbows. Inhale and slowly open your arms to horizontal or until you feel a stretch through your ribs. Raise your arms back up to vertical as you exhale. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions using light weights.
The Gate pose is a yoga exercise that allows you to gently stretch your intercostal muscles and improve lung expansion. Begin by kneeling on a folded towel or exercise mat. Stretch your right leg out away from your body and position your foot as flat as possible on the floor with your toes pointing out. Inhale deeply as you lift both arms out to your sides. Exhale and bend at the waist to reach your right hand down to your right leg while reaching upward with your left arm. Look up at your upraised arm if you can. Continue to breathe deeply, and each time you exhale, move a little deeper into the stretch. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds, then carefully return to the starting position. Repeat the exercise with your left side.
Performance breathing requires you to simply breathe and, according to the American Council on Exercise, can improve respiratory muscle strength and endurance as well as improve your performance. When practicing breathing techniques, place yourself in a quiet area free of distractions and ensure that your nose is clear and that you can breathe smoothly. Once you are settled, begin by inhaling for two counts. Hold your breath for two counts then exhale for four counts. Repeat this cycle several times. Once you are comfortable breathing this way while sitting, try applying it to exercise. For example, inhale for two strides, hold for two strides and exhale for four strides while jogging. Try increasing the time for each phase as your abilities improve.
- Anatomy and Physiology, Second Edition; Elaine N. Marieb
- Strength Training Anatomy, Second Edition; Frederic Delavier; 2006
- ExRx.net: Dumbbell Fly
- Yoga Journal: Gate Pose
- American Council on Exercise: Want to Improve Your Performance? Breathe!
Jen Weir writes for several websites, specializing in the health and fitness field. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Montana State University, is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and maintains a personal trainer certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.