Breathing........ it sounds quite straight forward really doesn't it? I mean, we do it thousands of times a day without even thinking about it! However, I'm fairly sure that by the time you reach the end of this article, you will find that you're not currently doing it right.
So why is breathing 'correctly' so important?
Breathing correctly and coordinating the contraction of your core muscles, positively affects back pain, pelvic pain, diastasis recti, and pelvic floor dysfunction including incontinence and prolapse/feelings of heaviness in the pelvis. When the muscles of the core can do the job they are meant to, dysfunction can be avoided.
Even if you don't display any of these dysfunction symptoms, I would still recommend you continue reading as getting this coordination right, can also positively affect your core training and its results!
Firstly, what is your core? You may be thinking six-pack muscles at this point, but it's not. Your six-pack muscles, the rectus abdominus and also the external and internal obliques are superficial abdominal muscles. They are not technically your 'core' muscles. It is so common that these superficial muscles take over and dominate during core exercises, like planks, pikes etc. making the abdominal muscles as a whole more and more imbalanced.
Your core muscles include the diaphragm, transversus abdominus/TVA (the corset muscles that wraps around you horizontally), pelvic floor and multifidus.
I would recommend you have a go at the steps I've included below and re-read as many times as needed!
When you breathe in/inhale, your diaphragm lowers, pushing the contents of your abdomen down, but allowing space for your lungs to expand.
What should also happen when you breathe in, is you tummy should expand slightly and your pelvic floor should lower. In other words, your tummy and pelvic floor should release. If you are gripping onto these muscles, squeezing them tight all the time, then the contents of your abdomen gets squashed and the pressure within it increases. This can put a huge amount of strain on the pelvic floor, pelvic organs and also the tummy wall particularly if you have a diastasis recti.
Your ribs should also expand 360 degrees when we inhale. Due to many factors including poor posture, lifestyle, previous pregnancies etc. it is very common to find your chest lifting up towards your chin when breathing in. Your chest should however stay down and your ribs should expand outwards. Your core muscles are attached to your ribs, so the reason why your chest should stay down is because as soon as it lifts, it pulls the ribs UP and consequently switches off your core muscles, putting all the strain on the lower back.
Try putting your hands on the sides of your ribs as your inhale and feel them expand outwards. Find that they don't move? That's quite common. The intercostal muscles between each rib if not used, will simply switch off just like any other muscle in your body would switch off if it's not used. Practice this and gain some mobility back in your ribs to allow your lungs to fill without lifting your chest.
The opposite should happen when you breathe out/exhale:
the ribs will recoil back in;
the diaphragm rises, and;
the pelvic floor and tummy (tranversus abdominus/TVA muscle) should pull upwards and inwards, respectively.
To engage the pelvic floor, you need to imagine pulling the front and back of your undercarriage towards each other, also pulling your two sitting bones towards each other. This should happen without your bottom muscles or inner thigh muscles squeezing or your pelvis tipping forwards or backwards.
The feeling you need to have when your tummy pulls in should not be a 'clench' as if your performing a sit up nor a sucking in. It's a slow contraction that starts in your lower tummy, pulling inwards and upwards that gradually radiates up towards your ribs. Your chest shouldn't lower nor your pelvis tip when you do this. It's much easier to do if you have performed the tummy release properly on the inhale.
Don't overdo the pelvic floor and TVA engagement. You're looking for 30-40% of a maximal contraction.
Breathing correctly takes a lot of conscious thought to begin with. Take it slow as doing this too fast may make you feel dizzy. With practice, this process becomes automatic, just like putting your hand to your mouth when you cough. This puts you in a much safer place when it comes to high impact exercise including running.
This breathing technique is the foundation of good core function. If you're goal is for a better looking/ flatter tummy, get this in place first! If you're interested in some 1-2-1 coaching on breathing, posture and engaging the core correctly, please get in touch!