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Today we’re taking breathing to the next level, as I introduce two additional breathing exercises that further strengthen the muscles of the inner core.
With diaphragmatic breathing or “belly breathing,” we take slow, deep breaths in and out. We strengthen the diaphragm on the in breath as it engages and descends into the abdominal cavity. This fills the belly with air, which strengthens the other muscles of the inner core – multifidus, pelvic floor, and transversus abdominis (TVA) – when they eccentrically contract against the resulting pressure created in the abdomen.
We can further exercise and strengthen the inner unit through “piston” breathing. With a piston inhale, we quickly and forcefully draw the breath into the belly; with a piston exhale we do just the opposite, expelling the air as quickly and forcefully as possible. The inhale tones all the muscle of the inner unit in the same way that diaphragmatic breathing does, with a concentric contraction of the diaphragm and an eccentric contraction of the multifidus, pelvic floor, and TVA. The piston exhale provides additional strengthening of the pelvic floor and TVA, as we must further engage these muscles to forcefully expel the air from the abdomen.
I demonstrate all three breathing patterns – diaphragmatic breathing, piston inhales, and piston exhales – in the video below. I start the video with the slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths. At 1:00, I transfer to the piston inhales; at 2:10 I start the piston exhales.
Here are a few tips to help you practice:
- Always start with the slow, deep breathing in order to connect with the diaphragm. Once you access the diaphragm and establish a rhythm, you can switch to the piston breathing.
- Practice the piston inhales and exhales separately. Take a slow, deep inhale before each piston exhale, and follow each piston exhale with a slow, deep exhale.
- When performing piston inhales, soften through your belly and focus on shooting the air into the pit of your stomach as quickly as possible.
- When performing the piston exhales, simultaneously engage both the TVA (i.e. draw your navel to your spine) and the pelvic floor (i.e. perform a kegel) at the end of the slow inhale, using these muscles to forcefully expel the breath from the body.