Image Source: Complete Anatomy App (presentation licence obtained)
Breathing Part 1: Beyond the traditional core exercises.
When people reference a strong core, often the first thing that comes to mind is a 6-pack. One thing that is often rarely mentioned is the diaphragm and an individual’s breathing capacity.
First off, why does this matter? Now we all know that you CAN breathe, you have been doing so for many years. The question is, have you been doing this motor task as efficiently and as optimal as you can. We know that Intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) is one of the main stabilizers of the spine. IAP is simply the balanced coordination between the diaphragm, pelvic floor and abdominal muscles.
For simplicity sake, think of your torso and abdominal region as a can of soup. Ideally, what we look for is full 360∞ expansion of this can of soup with inspiration. This means that we expect the front, sides and back side of our abdomen to expand outwards with each breathe in and to relax with each breathe out. With inspiration, this increases our IAP thus stabilizing and helping to protect our spine with each breathe.
One of the more common compensations is breathing through your chest. This is visualized when you inspire and notice chest movement initiates prior to abdominal movement. This is a classic example of the secondary respiration muscles such as pecs and the front neck muscles acting as the primary respiration muscle, which should be the diaphragm. Breathing with chest movement first does not allow the diaphragm, abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor to stabilize and support your spine by putting them in a non-optimal position that leads to mechanical disadvantage.
A quick test of this is to lay down on your back and place one hand on your chest and your other hand on your abdomen. Close your eyes, breathe normally and try to appreciate the movement of your abdomen and chest. See if you can tell which one moves before the other one.
To help train the diaphragm, lower abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, lie on your back and place your index fingers around your waist at the level of your belly button and rest your thumbs on the lower part of your back. The goal here is to breathe so that you have abdominal expansion through both your index fingers as well as your thumb. What you should feel is your fingers moving slightly away from each other with inspiration and slightly back together with expiration.
Let’s focus on this exercise for this week. Next week we will go through how to progress this position and apply these principles to some common abdominal exercises.
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