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Breathe easy and connect to your core!

24 August 2018  |  By Chris Verveen

Breathe easy and connect to your core!

I’ve been a physiotherapist for 22 years and have also specialised in teaching pilates for the past 15 years, with additional specialist post grad education, training and focus on pelvic floor rehab and pelvic floor safe exercise for women and men. During that time, I have had to regularly remind patients during classes to actively do the one thing that very few people ever spend much time thinking about: BREATHING.

But let’s recall why breathing correctly is critically important during core exercise.

Breathing should be a simple, innate action that we don’t have to think about.But like any muscle the diaphragm (breathing muscle) can also move inefficiently depending on our postural habits, our resting state of tension, our pain levels and our baseline lung function. And often, patients are totally unaware that their breathing is not as effective as it could be.

Because we can’t see the diaphragm working like we can our bigger, outer global muscles like our quads and calves, we can be less aware of our diaphragm muscle in our day-to-day lives.

Connected with the diaphragm are three other core muscles:

  • the deepest abdominal muscle (transversus abdominis);
  • the deepest back muscles (multifidus); and
  • (of course, my other favourite muscle to remind you all about) ­- the pelvic floor muscles!

The blog picture shows the CORRECT and INCORRECT ways to carry out a core contraction. Critical to ANY exercise is coordinated contraction of these four core muscles (including the diaphragm).

So how do these CORE muscles integrate?

If performed correctly, when the pelvic floor contracts it squeezes and lifts, the deep tummy muscles draw in and there should be no change to normal breathing. Hence, your pilates exercises should be able to be performed in harmony with normal breathing.In short: DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH.

Common errors I’ve seen when patients perform core exercises incorrectly include:

  • sucking in their belly button;
  • holding their breath;
  • bracing their entire core muscles in a vice-like grip; and
  • potentially bearing down on (rather than lifting up) the pelvic floor muscles.

These flaws can in fact weaken the pelvic floor over time and lead to or worsen pelvic floor symptoms.

Hence, it is critically important to recognise the integral connection of your core muscles, be self-aware of your own breath during your pilates practice at home and in class and remember to breathe throughout your movements (which in turn helps the control, fluidity, efficiency and quality of your exercise regime).

CHRIS’ TOP TIPS for improving Pilates technique:

  1. Start your session, lying down, letting go of any obvious body tension, feeling your spine settle into your neutral position and focus on 6 -10 normal breaths before you move a single muscle!
  2. If an exercise feels too loaded to you, it probably is (too heavy a hand weight straining the neck or shoulder for example or both legs in 90-90 position pulling on your lower back ) If a strong exercise causes you to hold your breath , it is likely too advanced a move at that time so ask your instructor to modify the exercise so your breathing action is not compromised or do less reps of the harder exercise while really concentrating on your breath control. Trust in how the movement is feeling and respond accordingly.
  3. Let your own natural breathing pace dictate the speed of your movements. Remember the principles of Pilates include BREATHING, CONTROL, CONCENTRATION, PRECISION, CO-ORDINATION, CENTRE and FLOW of MOVEMENT.
  4. Practice some breathing awareness in your day to day lives e.g. in bed at night, in the car at the traffic lights or a simple mindfulness breathing activity on a free app on your smart phone could suit you.

“Before any real benefit can be derived from physical exercises, one must first learn how to breath properly. Our very life depends on it.”

If you have any questions or concerns around your Pilates technique, your breathing control, or the quality of your pelvic floor contraction – come and see me for a 1:1 session. We can also avail of the real-time ultrasound machine at Spring to help you to visualise and isolate your core muscles and improve your overall rehabilitation outcomes.

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