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Breathwork and Core

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Core Muscles/Diaphragm?

We all would like to tighten our “core muscles”, (AKA known as our lauded “six-pack.”)…but we mustn’t forget forget about the “diaphragm.”

The diaphragm’s two main functions involve breathing and biomechanics.

It’s one of the most important muscles for maintaining intra-abdominal pressure (Nelson 2012).

An inability to regulate intra-abdominal pressure may result in poor motor control and lack of spinal stability.

When the diaphragm is not properly engaged, other muscles must compensate, which increases the risk of injury (back aches, knee pain, shoulder pain etc.

The spine is like a “sailboat’s mast,” which must take pressure from the sails to create movement. If the mast lacks support and is wobbly, the boat won’t go far. Similarly, if the core muscles can’t maintain internal pressure and the spine loses stability, movement suffers.

Core muscles don’t move heavy weight; they stabilize the spine while other muscles move load. Put another way, intra-abdominal pressure is like a weight belt applied from the inside.

A proper core-training program involves maintaining a neutral spine while breathing and moving the extremities…most importantly while exercising!

How do I teach this?

Well, if you’ve been taking my classes, I bet you’ve become quite familiar hearing me instruct practice in activating the core muscles, over doing a thousand crunches, squats, lunges, etc.

Now, let’s add in “Breath” It’s important to breathe properly!

Dysfunctional or limited breathing is more common than you think!

Inhibited breathing can be the cause for poor posture and bad habits, which leads to not being able to perform to our capabilities.

Therefore, learning proper breathing is the first step toward getting a stronger core.

The following exercises can be done in sequence as part of a Warm-up to a core section or workout. If the 3rd. move is not connecting correctly, regress and focus on the first two instead. 🙂

Breath Awareness

The first exercise helps you become aware of the breath:

  • Lie flat on your back, knees bent, feet on floor.
  • Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, below the ribs.
  • Take a deep breath as the hand on your belly rises. The hand on your chest stays stable.
  • Inhale for 3–4 seconds and exhale for 6–8 seconds. Feel the lower ribs expand—this is the diaphragm contracting.
  • Practice until the breath flows smoothly in and out.

Abdominal Brace

The next step is to brace the abdominals as you breathe:

  • Inhale as in the first exercise.
  • As you exhale, bring the lower ribs in a little and brace the core.
  • Hold the contraction as you inhale and exhale. The inhalation will be limited; that’s normal.
  • The goal is to get used to the breath’s movement without losing intra-abdominal pressure.

Modified Dead Bug

  • From the same supine position, lift both feet off the floor, thighs at 90 degrees to hips, knees bent.
  • Slide your hands into the small of your back, beneath the natural lumbar curvature.
  • Repeat the abdominal brace. As you exhale, touch one foot to the ground.
  • Inhale, bringing the foot back to its starting position.
  • Alternate legs, left to right, while maintaining uniform pressure on the hands—no more, no less.

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