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.
For this lesson, you can choose to watch this video or read the lesson below it.
Key Muscles to Focus On
The most important core muscles to focus on (for any person, but especially those who are pregnant or postpartum) 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 (DF) 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 ot 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) (critical during and after pregnancy) 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 sit in neutral alignment with your ribs stacked over your pelvis, neck long, and shoulders relaxed. Then, place your hands around your lower rib cage, as you see in the image below.
- Inhale through your nose, sending the air into your rib cage so that your rib cage 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 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 the exhale. It should feel as if you are tightening a girdle around you.
- Repeat for several slow breaths – inhaling through the nose and expanding your rib cage 360°, exhaling (fully) through pursed lips feeling the “girdle tighten” as you draw your navel inward.
To help you see this in action, watch this video here demonstrating 360° Breathing. A few important technique points:
- On the inhale, ensure the expansion is in the rib cage, and not the neck and shoulders.
- Make sure the expansion is not just in the belly. Intentionally pushing the belly outward when inhaling can increase IAP. Your belly will naturally expand as you inhale, without you having to think about it. Focus more on the lateral and posterior expansion (sides and back) and your belly will naturally expand with it.
- The exhale should be the longer portion of the movement. Maximize the exhale – breathing out as long as you can to get all the air out. This increases TVA activation on the exhale and increases DF activation on the inhale (since this allows a deeper inhale).
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. This means:
- 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?
Teaching your clients 360° Breathing is just one of the very first steps in our Performance Training Approach. Learn more about how you can earn your CECs and Certificate as a Pre/Postnatal Performance Training Specialist.
Or, to get started with some free education, check out our FREE 5-Day Guide to Training Pregnant Clients.