“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” –Sanskrit proverb
Regardless of skill level, almost everyone would agree that breathing is critical to exercise execution. Forced exhalation during the positive phase of a squat, curl or press is the most elementary application of breathing patterns during exercise.
But what if we want to take our strength and athletic performance to the next level, is simply focusing on the exhalation sufficient for optimizing strength? To better understand this question, we want to take a deeper dive into the anatomy and fascial connections that are influenced by breathing.
Diaphragm: Pelvic Floor Connections
When we talk about breathing patterns, what is really being referenced here is the diaphragm.
The diaphragm is a sheet of internal skeletal muscle that extends across the bottom of the thoracic cavity, separating it from the abdominal cavity. When the diaphragm contracts the volume of the thoracic cavity increases, creating a negative pressure which draws air into the lungs. Exhalation is simply a relaxation or recoil of the diaphragm muscle which drives the air out of the lungs.
Like all muscles in the body, the diaphragm does not function in isolation. There are powerful fascial connections to the diaphragm that further unlock the power of this muscle. One the most important fascial connections to the diaphragm is the pelvic floor.
Positioned at the base of the pelvis, the pelvic floor muscles can be thought of as our pelvic diaphragm, moving in rhythm with each breath we take. Because of their fascial attachment, diaphragm and pelvic floor contractions can be coordinated to optimize strength during exercise execution.
Fascial integration or the blending of muscles lays the foundation for co-contractions or stacking strength within the body. The area of the body that co-contractions are studied the most, is the core or our body’s center of gravity.
Located at the level of L5/S1 or just below the umbilicus, our center of gravity is our body’s center of stability and therefore our center of power. The faster we can stabilize this area of our body, the stronger we will be.
From the obliques and transverse abdominals to the diaphragm and pelvic floor, every single muscle of our core blends into another muscle, making this the epicenter of co-contractions, stiffness and strength.
Even though the co-contractions of our core are innate and subconscious, in some people they begin to lose their coordination. Stress, injury and compensation all can alter the timing and coordination of the abdominal co-contractions. This leads to delayed stabilization, insufficient stiffness and increased risk of injury.
One of the best ways to bring the co-contractions back in order is to use the breath, or the diaphragm, as the driver.
Finding Conscious Contractions
To bring the co-contractions of the core back online, you want to begin with awareness training of the diaphragm and pelvic floor. Conscious contractions of these muscles will begin to re-organize the subconscious co-contractions of the entire abdominal cavity.
Diaphragm Awareness Exercise
Pelvic Floor Awareness Exercise
Integration with Movement
After establishing an awareness to the contractions of the diaphragm and pelvic floor it’s time to coordinate them with movement. Let’s begin to apply this to the air squat.
Standing with your feet shoulder width apart and the feet stable on the ground, inhale as you descend into the squat. At the bottom of the squat and before standing back up, begin to contract the pelvic floor. As you press up, exhale while further lifting the pelvic floor.
Relax the diaphragm and pelvic floor and repeat.
This same principle can be applied to almost any exercise. Try to find the coordination of the pelvic floor and breathing patterns in a bicep curl, kettlebell swing and even a military press. The key to remember here is that conscious contractions drive subconscious patterns. The more you consciously emphasize the diaphragm and pelvic floor coordination it will eventually become the subconscious driver to the rest of the core stability.
In part 2, we are going to explore how our feet connect to this diaphragm pelvic floor stability and actually further enhances our overall power and stability.
PODCAST: PA Radio Episode 377 – Feet, Fascia, & Dr Emily Splichal
PODCAST: PA Radio Episode 379 – Foot Strength & Arthritic Big Toes w/ Dr. Zanis
PODCAST: PA Radio Episode 389 – A Body Breakdown w/ Dr. Mike Martino
BLOG: Rash of NFL Injuries Due to Weak Feet by Matt Zanis
BLOG: Foot Health – Shoes Are The Devil! by Matt Zanis
EDU: ACL Injury Prevention – Power Athlete Academy
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