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IAP: Three Letters You Need to Know

In working with the pre and postnatal population, one critical element of your training will be Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP) management. This will be key to helping your clients develop a strong, well functioning core and to mitigating issues with Diastasis Recti and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction.

What is IAP?

IAP is the amount of pressure in the abdominal cavity at any given time. IAP alone is not a bad thing.  On the contrary, a certain amount of pressure is needed in the abdomen so that the core can assist in accelerating, decelerating, or stabilizing any movement.  Trunk stiffness is key to successfully achieving almost all activities — both during high-performance and everyday activities like carrying grocery bags, lifting a child, or pushing a stroller.

However, issues arise when there is a buildup of consistent and excessive IAP over time. Eventually, this excess pressure has to go somewhere, and it either goes outward onto the abdominal wall (which can lead to a separation of the outer abdominal muscle layer, or Diastasis Recti) or downward onto the pelvic floor muscles (which can to Pelvic Floor Dysfunction)

What Happens to IAP During Pregnancy?

IAP changes based on the volume of the cavity and the contents within it, as well as outside forces placed on the body. That means that if someone gains mass in the belly (like during pregnancy), then the IAP rises above resting levels.  Therefore, pregnant women have chronically elevated IAP, so we need to make smart training choices to help our clients manage these elevated IAP levels.

Key to IAP Management: 360˚ Breathing

There are many reasons we call 360˚ Breathing the #1 most effective core exercise. One of the (many) reasons is that it turns on the “pumping mechanism” of the Core Canister (diaphragm, transverse abdominis, and pelvic floor) to help regulate pressure inside the core. If you have not done so already, watch this video on The Core Canister & 360˚ Breathing.

Behaviors to Avoid

We mentioned in the beginning, making smart training choices will be critical to helping your clients regulate their IAP.  In our Pre/Postnatal Performance Training Specialist Course, we discuss in detail the exercises to regress and avoid at various stages of pregnancy and postpartum recovery to avoid a pressure buildup.  However, there are also a few behaviors to avoid that can create excess IAP.  Work with your clients to avoid the following:

  • “Sucking in” and chronically “engaging their core”: Ironically these activities, which we often do to make our bellies look better, can actually have the opposite effect. Learn Why…
  • Breath-holding upon exertion or “Valsalva”: This technique is often done to help in lifting max loads. It creates a spike in intra-abdominal pressure, which does allow for greater force production.  However, “spiking IAP” is not something we want to do during pregnancy when IAP is already elevated, nor in the early postpartum period when the core muscles have not yet fully recovered.
  • Bearing down on the toilet: This is a form of “breath-holding upon exertion” and therefore has the same effect as above. Unfortunately, constipation is a common side effect of pregnancy, but you can share these tips with your clients to help reduce constipation. 

Interested in learning more about IAP, and proper core training during pregnancy?  Explore our Pre/Postnatal Professional Education Courses.