Training your core starts with one very easy thing that we all do everyday - Breathing.
Most of us do not breathe properly. We breathe shallowly into our chest but don't use our diaphragm and abdominals properly. These muscles are crucial parts of our internal core (see Core Strength Anatomy blog). So how do we start to breath properly in order to exercise these muscles?
I want you to think of a baby - or a puppy if babies aren't your thing! Think of them breathing. Imagine our there bellies are constantly moving in and out. These tiny humans and animals haven't yet been effected by society and it's stresses and still use their bellies to breathe!
What happens when we breathe?
As we inhale we take air into our lungs. This is caused by our diaphragm contracting and moving down into the abdominal cavity. This downward movement creates negative pressure which sucks air into our lungs, literally inflating us like balloons! And this is the key point - we must get bigger when we breathe in - we have to! Otherwise where is the air going??
As we breathe out - exhale - our diaphragm relaxes and moves back up into our thoracic cage (made by the thoracic spine and the ribs). This upward movement pushes the air out of our lungs and deflates us.
Now we can also use our abdominals and our pelvis to help with this exhalation and this is where we start to think about the Connection Breath.
The Connection Breath
This is a way of breathing that I teach all my mummies. As a post partum coach it is the building blocks of all rehab back to exercise after pregnancy. During pregnancy we have a lot of weight sitting on our pelvic floor, not to mention the watermelon size creature we eventually push through it! Or if that isn't possible, the major surgery we have to pull the baby directly through our abs. Learning the connection breath is a brilliant way to gently start to engage these muscles. It is easily processed into more dynamic exercises for your core. It can be done ANYWHERE in ANY POSITION!
So what do you do?
It is super easy! Let me guide you through it:
Step 1 - learning to belly breathe
Firstly assume a comfortable sitting, lying our standing position where you can create your neutral spine. This is often easiest on the floor lying on your back. This way you get feed back from the floor about where your spine is. Check out my blog on creating a neutral spine to guide you through this.
Now place your hands on your belly so that your fingers overlap.
Take a deep breath in and feel you belly push up into your hands, pushing your hands apart. Keep your shoulders relaxed and down. Visualise your diaphragm lowering down and pushing your abdominal contents our while you ribs expand.
Now slowly exhale and feel you tummy deflate under your hands
Repeat 10 times
Step 2 - Incorporating the Pelvic Floor
Take a deep breath in feeling your tummy expand
Now as you exhale pull up on your pelvic floor - these are the muscles in between your legs that control urination (going for a wee). We all have them - yes men too! For us guys we can visualise taking tissue our of a box with your vagina - yep thats got them working hasn't it! If you are sitting try to visualise taking the muscles between you hip bones up away from the chair.
As you inhale again let these muscles go - its important that we allow them to relax too!
Repeat for 10 breaths
Step 3 - Incorporating your lower abdominals
As in step 2 - you are going to pull up on your pelvic floor as you exhale but this time allow that contraction to travel up to your lower abdominals.
If you are lying down place your finger tips just below your hip bones (on the from of your pelvis). You should be able to feel these muscles contracting underneath your finger tips.
Again release these muscles as you inhale - allowing your belly to inflate
Repeat for 10 breaths
So now that you have felt these muscles move and understood who they can be activated just by simply breathing lets start some gentle strengthening!
As in step three, as you exhale draw up your pelvic floor and gently draw your abs back towards your spine.
Now maintain this contraction as you inhale. You will feel you chest expanding more now as you diaphragms decent is blocked by your core muscles. In essence you have created a wall with your abs! The movement of your diaphragm down is putting pressure against that wall - strengthening you abs!
Repat for 5 breaths, have a break and then repeat 3 times over. Remember on your break to breathe normally allowing the pelvic floor to relax.
The Connection Breath is only the beginning but it is an extremely important first step! It can be used for 'bearing down' in riding, to rehab your abdominals after a C-section and to strengthen your pelvic floor. It important give you the awareness of your core muscles and how to engage them to protect your spine!
Keep an eye out on my website for the next blog on core strengthening exercises which will take you on the next step of the journey towards building a super strong foundation!
For now, get breathing!