The best core exercise you’ve never heard of is The Core Breath. The inner core, what I like to call The Core 4, is made up of the pelvic floor, the breathing diaphragm, the transversus abdominis, as well the little muscles along our spine called the multifidus. These 4 partners work in synergy all day long and play a role in a lot of functions we take for granted. Things like our continence, our pelvic and spinal stability, our organ support and even our sexual response.
When people think of core training they often think of planks, crunches, leg raises and maybe bird dogs… and its true…much of your core is involved in these activities. What is often overlooked or not considered is the role of the pelvic floor in core training and how crucial it is to our long-term core function.
The pelvic floor is the base or foundation of the core and when functioning optimally, it is involved in a constant dance with the diaphragm with each breath. Training the inner core unit harnesses the relationship between the pelvic floor and diaphragm and improves overall core function. The Core Breath looks simple but it is often very challenging for people because it involves coordination and activating a part of the body that most have never even thought about.
This is the first exercise I give to all of my clients regardless of their life stage as it sets the foundation upon which they build and layer on progressively harder exercises. It is common for people to choose the hardest exercise they can do because they think it will make them stronger faster but here’s the thing… If the inner unit is not working in a coordinated fashion, the harder exercises may not be as effective because the foundation, the pelvic floor, is not optimized to manage the load.
In pregnancy, it is important to train the pelvic floor functionally to help it manage the ever- increasing load of the growing baby and uterus. There is a small modification to the core breath that I add at around 35 weeks to help prepare the pregnant mana for birth and pushing her baby out into the world. As you saw in the video, the core breath involves expansion on the inhale – ribs, belly and perineum – followed by a voluntary pelvic floor contraction on the exhale. I train my pregnant clients this way until about week 35 and then I have the practice inhaling to expand then exhaling while keeping that expansion. During the second stage, the push phase, of labour, it is ideal to exhale during the push. In the regular core breath that is usually when we voluntarily contract but during birth you don’t want to actively contract your pelvic floor while you are pushing as that would hinder the movement of baby into and out of the pelvis. By practicing exhaling while keeping an expansion it helps reduce tension and increase the pelvic outlet. A visualization of blossoming the vulva is very helpful during practice and the big day!
Once the baby is born, the core breath returns to the usual inhale to expand, exhale to engage. It may feel a bit tender to actively engage the pelvic floor right away but visualizing the pelvic floor engaging and lifting is helpful and as soon as you can, add in the voluntary contraction. This helps increase blood flow, improves circulation, stimulates nerve growth factor and encourages the abdominal muscles to realign (diastasis recti). The core breath is the very first recovery exercise and should be started as soon as possible to start the core retraining process.
You don’t need to have had a baby or ever been pregnant to find benefit in the core breath. Many other things can interfere with core function so no matter who I am working with, I always start them with the core breath to set the foundation, retrain the core 4 synergy and then build upon that foundation.
The Core Breath is really a more functional approach to a kegel. Kegels are a voluntary activation and relation of the pelvic floor muscles. When the breath is added to the kegel it becomes an incredibly powerful core exercise. Some benefit with more attention paid to the contract and lift portion of the breath while others benefit from spending more time focusing on the expansion, the blossoming and the letting go. Here is an assessment to get clarity on what might be best for you.