Did you know that teaching your client proper core activation is the single most significant improvement you can make – for your clients’ health and (if they are pregnant) the health of their babies? A well-functioning deep core leads to:
- Fewer pains and injuries
- Better (easier) movement
- Easier labor
- Faster recovery
- Reduced stress
- Increased energy
- Enhanced immunity
- Better digestion
- Improved health
- Healthier fetal growth environment
In this piece, we will first discuss the critical core muscles to focus on during pregnancy and postpartum, and then teach you the exercise we refer to as the #1 most effective core exercise.
Key Muscles to Focus On
The most important core muscles to focus on during and after pregnancy are the deep core muscles, which we refer to as the “Core Canister” (shown below). These muscles form the shape of a canister with the diaphragm (DPH) at the top, the pelvic floor muscles (PF) at the bottom, and the transverse abdominis (TVA) wrapping all the way around the sides.
Each component of the Core Canister plays an important role on its own, but the “magic” happens when these muscles synchronize together to form a dynamic pump. This pumping action is what helps to regulate intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and enable the individual to reap all the benefits listed above.
The #1 Most Effective Core Exercise
So how do we activate this pumping action? It all comes down to the way we breathe. The specific style of breathing that ensures proper functioning of all the Core Canister muscles is called 360° Breathing. We refer to it as “the #1 most effective exercise.”
And let’s make one thing abundantly clear. This is the most effective exercise for any individual — male, female, young and old. Proper breathing mechanics form the foundation for all movement. It just happens to be especially important in the prenatal and postpartum period.
So, let’s discuss how to perform 360° Breathing. The goal is to help your client master this and eventually make it their natural style of breathing. When this happens, it’s like doing over 20,000 reps per day of the best core work there is.
How to Perform 360° Breathing
Find a comfortable chair and try to practice along with us. You can follow the steps below, or watch the video demonstration at the end.
- Sit up tall with your ribs stacked over your pelvis, your neck long, and your shoulders relaxed. Place your hands around your lower rib cage with your fingers in front and your thumbs in back – as you can see in the video below.
- Inhale through your nose, sending the air into your rib cage so that it expands 360° and pushes into your hands in all directions (front, sides, and back). Your shoulders should remain relaxed and down.
- Exhale fully through pursed lips — extending your exhale for as long as you can so that no air is left in your lungs — feeling your navel draw toward your spine as a result of your exhale. It should feel as if you are tightening a girdle around you.
- Repeat for several slow breaths. The exhale should take longer than the inhale.
Watch the Video Demonstration:
Two Important Technique Points:
- On your inhale, ensure the expansion is in your rib cage, and not your neck and shoulders.
- Ensure the expansion is not just forward (in your belly). Pushing your belly outward could potentially create too much pressure in your core. Focus on the lateral and posterior expansion (sides and back) and your belly will naturally expand with it.
Integrating 360° Breathing into Movement
Mastering 360° Breathing in static postures is just the first step. The next (important) step is to help your client incorporate it into movement (inside and outside of the training session) by focusing on exhaling on the effort. Watch a video explanation of this below.
To recap, “exhale on the effort means that you…
- Inhale on the easier portion of the movement. Typically during the eccentric phase of the movement (i.e. lowering down into a squat, or extending your arms prior to a bicep curl).
- Exhale on the more challenging portion of the movement. Typically during the concentric phase of the movement (i.e. standing up from a squat, or flexing at your elbows for a bicep curl).
Exhaling on the effort activates the Core Canister muscles and enables you to exert force without spiking the pressure inside your core. Note that the greater the intensity (or stability challenge) of the movement, the stronger the exhale should be. For example, if you are bending over to pick your keys up off the ground, you can simply exhale comfortably as you stand. However, if you are bending over to pick up a heavy barbell (or heavy toddler), then you will need a much stronger exhale to generate the necessary force.
TIP: When first teaching the concept of “exhale on the effort” to your clients, it typically helps to cue when to inhale and when to exhale during movements. After a while, it should become natural and your client will no longer need your cues.
Interested in Learning More?
If you are interested in earning your Specialty Certificate to train pre & postnatal clients (or train yourself if you are in this stage personally!), explore our education to become a PROnatal Certified Coach.
Or, if you’re a group fitness instructor interested in learning how to better support the pre & postnatal participants who attend your “regular” classes, explore our mini course: Pre/Postnatal Education for Group Fitness Instructors.