We know some people still love their crunches, but we’re not big on old fashioned “ab exercises.” We’re much more fond of functional exercises that train your body to do the types of movements in your daily life. Think: Carting around car seats. Hanging from the monkey bars. Carrying groceries. Living room dance parties!
But if we had a dollar for every time someone asked us how to work their abs, we’d be billionaires!
Their reasons vary of course…everything from wanting to reduce back pain (from carting said kids around all day), to helping with posture, to wanting to feel more confident.
And for sure, those are all benefits of strengthening your core. But let’s hold up a second…
“Core strength” is a term that gets thrown around a whole lot, but do we really understand what that means and feels like in our body?
Let’s start with what “the core” actually is. It’s not just our abdominal muscles, but actually a whole system of four muscle groups, which work together to create a pillar of support for our body. As we move through our daily movements and activities, a strong, coordinated core makes these movements easier and reduces the chance of strain or injury.
Old fashion “ab” work isolates 1, maybe 2 muscles. Meh.
What we really need are movements that get all 4 core muscles to work as they should, as a team.
And the MOST important thing those muscles are meant to do for us? Breathe.
When one of our core muscles doesn’t work optimally, it affects the whole system. Our postural patterns, tight, tense muscles, and repetitive or improperly performed exercise can all affect our core muscles.
And then there’s pregnancy.
See below how the diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles move less and less as we progress through the trimesters of pregnancy. Your little babe takes up precious space in your abdomen and restricts the amount your diaphragm can move, which in turns affects the pelvic floor muscles.
As you can see above in the “first trimester” example, when the core is functioning optimally the diaphragm, transversus abdominis (deep abdominal muscles), and pelvic floor muscles relax/descend on the inhale and draw back up/contract on the exhale.
The coordination of the core muscles is the first step when it comes to re-building core strength. And the best way to help strengthen the relationship of these muscles is to do exactly what they’re meant to do: BREATHE.
Yup, it really is that simple. It might not be Instagram-worthy, but it is ESSENTIAL to your core strength, and simple enough that you can fit into your daily life… whether you’re stuck in a nursing chair for hours on end or at your desk.
So let’s do it! We’re going to walk you step by step through Core Breathing (also known as Diaphragmatic Breathing, or Piston Breathing) to get your core muscles functioning together as a team.
First watch the video. Follow along and try it for yourself.
Then, let’s get real. We don’t expect you to just sit around on a yoga ball practicing your breathing all day. (Though we do recommend you try it for a while you’re getting the hang of these new breathing habits, maybe as a warmup exercise or part of your cooldown/core work.)
The goal is to integrate proper breathing mechanics into your daily life. Be aware of your breathing during challenging tasks throughout your day, like:
- picking up a heavy load, for example, an infant car seat, moving boxes, groceries, or your toddler. Inhale as you squat/prepare and exhale as you engage your pelvic floor and lift.
- working out or in a fitness or yoga class. Usually, you will inhale as you go with gravity and descend into a squat, lunge, push up, etc and exhale as you engage your core and press back up against gravity.
- getting up out of a chair or up off the floor. Inhale to prepare and exhale press up with an engaged core.
Once you’ve build the habit of breathing properly, you have a strong foundation to work and can start layering on more challenging movements. And don’t worry — we got you covered for that too!
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