What is the 'core' made up of??
Abdominals (transverse abdominis)
Multifidi (low back stabilizing muscles)
Pelvic floor muscles
I like to think of your core as a canister made up of all of these things listed above with a top (diaphragm), bottom (pelvic floor), and the walls of the canister (transverse abdominis and multifidus). One of the jobs of this system is to manage intra-abdominal pressure (i.e. pressure within your abdominal cavity). In order to be able to manage pressure in this system, all of the muscles need to be in balance and trained as a unit to work together properly! What we don’t want is for pressure to increase too much for the task at hand because if there is increased pressure in the system, it must go somewhere!
For example, think of a tube of toothpaste. If you increase pressure in the tube, the organs of the abdominal canister will be pushed in the direction of least resistance. If the pelvic floor happens to be the weak link (common occurrence), then one can end up with urinary or fecal incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse. If the abdominal muscles are the weak link, one could end up with some sort of a hernia or low back pain.
So, Where Do I Start??
RETRAIN YOUR BREATHING → In today’s society, we often fall into a shallow breathing pattern where we use our chest more so than our bellies during breathing and our ribs don’t move as they should. If you are somebody is always super tight in your neck/chest muscles, you may likely be going into a shallow breathing pattern where you are breathing more into the accessory muscles of your neck rather than using your diaphragm properly. This can increase stress and leads to tightness in the neck/chest muscles. We want to get OUT of this shallow breathing pattern and get you into a deep, diaphragmatic breathing pattern to train your entire core canister!
When performing diaphragmatic (360) breathing, you are addressing the entire core canister and ensuring everything is working together as a system! The focus is on 360 degrees of expansion of the belly, chest, back, and sides.
The diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles work together during deep breathing as the diaphragm is the top portion of the canister and the pelvic floor muscles make up the bottom. These muscles must coordinate with one another for proper control of pressure!
How Do I Perform Diaphragmatic (360) Breathing??
INHALE: through your nose → as your diaphragm descends down on the inhale, the pelvic floor muscles must elongate to accommodate the pressure change, your ribcage must expand out to the sides, as well as your belly, back, and chest expand
EXHALE: through your mouth → as the diaphragm comes back up on the exhale, the ribs move down and in as your pelvic floor naturally lifts back up gently and your lower belly should flatten
Here's a great video by Dr. Sarah Duvall, that shows proper diaphragmatic breathing as well as common breathing mistakes!
^^See how it all coordinates!! This same coordination between your diaphragm and pelvic floor and the entire ‘core canister’ must happen during heavy lifting, running/jumping, coughing, or laughing! If this coordination is not occurring, it could lead to leakage of urine or pelvic organ prolapse as you are not able to control the pressure properly!
Try to perform this 360 breathing pattern during movements. Remember, always EXHALE on the effort both during movements in your daily life or during workouts/lifting exercises. Also, you always want to match the intensity of your exhale to the intensity of the movement. For example, performing a body weight squat would not require as strong of an exhale as performing a reverse lunge to single leg balance would.
You’ve got to start with the FOUNDATION & your breath is the foundation of your core. You must learn how to do a proper deep, diaphragmatic breath in order to continue to improve your core strength! You should be able to maintain this deep breathing pattern during abdominal exercises as you are training your core. If you are unable to maintain your breathing or if you see abdominal doming/coning during abdominal exercises, you may not be ready for certain ones!
If you need help and support in returning to exercise with pain or after injury or if you feel as if your core canister needs some work in order to improve your performance/workouts, I’d love to help you!
I’d love to chat with you or answer any questions for you to see how I could help you!
Kaitlin Hartley, PT, DPT, PPCES