In Part 3 of this blog series we will look at what I consider to be your most important individual core muscle, the Diaphragm, and how to ensure that you are using it effectively.
What is the diaphragm?
Your diaphragm is a large, dome shaped muscle that is attached to the thoracic spine, sternum and the ribs. Its primary function is to allow the rib cage to expand and contract, therefore allowing air into or out of the lungs. More simply put, the diaphragm is largely responsible for breathing, and is therefore referred to as your ‘primary breathing muscle’.
Benefits of Abdominal Breathing
- one of the main functions is maximum oxygenation of the blood.
- Done correctly – plays a major role in stabilization of the spine and preventing injury
- With abdominal breathing abdomen extends as you breathe in.
- This occurs because the diaphragm pulls down and draws the air into the lungs
When done correctly, the pressure created between the diaphragm and the core muscles stabilizes the spine, called abdominal pressurization, which prevents spinal injury.
The test outlined below is an effective way of checking abdominal/diaphragmatic breathing because, as the diaphragm pulls down during inhalation, it places pressure on the internal organs, forcing them to change position, giving the impression that the lower half of the torso is expanding and filling up with air.
The reverse then occurs as we exhale and release the diapgragm back into its original position.
An easy way to test wether or not you are using abdominal/diapgragmatic breathing
- sit down on a chair, feet resting on the ground
- place your hands firmly on your sides, just above your hips; thumbs in the small of your back, the other four fingers firmly gripping your side and stomach
- Inhale; relax your shoulders, neck and chest
- Notice first the belly expanding like a balloon, and then the sides and lower back as well
- Exhale; keep your shoulders, neck and chest relaxed.
- Notice the torso ‘shrinking’ back into its starting position
Ultimately, we should be breathing this way all the time, whether active or relaxed. It may take some getting used to, but it is a highly effective way to ensure that you have a healthy lung capacity and a stable, strong and protected spine. I urge you to spend at least a few minutes per day practicing abdominal breathing. It is easy, effective and can be done anywhere, at home, in the office or at the gym.