The importance of proper core training during and after pregnancy cannot be emphasized enough. It can help prevent pregnancy pains and injuries (including low back pain, diastasis recti, pelvic floor dysfunction, and SI joint pain), improve your ability to push, expedite your postpartum recovery (helping you achieve a flatter tummy), and even improve your overall health, and — if you’re pregnant — the health of your growing baby.
However, the keyword here is “proper” because the type of core training we are referring to is definitely not the traditional sit-ups and planks you might be envisioning. In pre and postnatal core training, we are focused on the deepest core muscles. Let’s discuss the specific muscles first, and then we’ll teach you the exercise we refer to as the #1 most effective core exercise.
For this article, you can choose to either watch the video or read the lesson below it.
The Key Muscles to Focus On: Your “Core Canister”
The “Core Canister” is a term we use to refer to the deep core muscles of your diaphragm, transverse abdominis, and pelvic floor (shown below), which form the shape of a canister.
These are important muscles for any individual to focus on, but they are especially important during pregnancy and the postpartum period because when these muscles are strong and functioning properly, you reap all the benefits below:
- Stronger core (and flatter tummy post-pregnancy)
- Improved posture
- Less low back and other orthopedic pain
- Reduced risk of Diastasis Recti and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
- Improved immunity and digestion
- Increased energy and ability to focus
- Increased stamina for labor and improved pushing ability
- Improved overall health
- Healthier fetal growth environment
That’s A LOT of benefits, and there is one exercise that activates these Core Canister muscles and gets them to work together in harmony to help you reap all these benefits. This exercise is called 360° Breathing, or as we refer to it the #1 most effective core exercise of all. Yes, it all comes down to the way you breathe.
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.
Integrating 360° Breathing into Movement
360° Breathing is not meant to just be an “exercise” you perform a few times per week. The goal is to make 360° Breathing your natural style of breathing. Of course, not every breath you take needs to be this slow deep breath. The important point is to train yourself to become a diaphragmatic breather vs. breathing from the accessory muscles of your neck and shoulders (known as apical breathing). The more you practice, the more natural it will become.
One important way to incorporate strategy to focus on is using your 360° Breathing when exerting effort (lifting, pushing, pulling, etc). This could be during exercise or simply picking up a laundry basket or small child up from the ground. We do this by focusing on exhaling on the effort. This means that you:
- Inhale on the easier portion of the movement. For example, lowering down into a squat, extending your arms before a bicep curl, or bending over prior to lifting something.
- Exhale on the more challenging portion of the movement. To follow the examples above, this would be standing up from that squat, curling your arms in the bicep curl, or lifting the object from the ground.
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.
Download a FREE Training Guide
Looking for more evidence-based resources for prenatal and postpartum training? Check out our 5-Day Guide Training Guide. You’ll receive one powerful lesson each day to help you successfully train (or train your clients) for pregnancy or postpartum recovery.