What if we told you there was one exercise that could strengthen your core, mitigate pregnancy pains, facilitate more effective pushing, reduce stress, increase energy, and even improve your overall health – and the health of your growing baby?
Guess what. There is, and that’s why we refer to it as the #1 most effective core exercise – for any person — pregnant or not.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this “exercise” is that it is simply about the way you breathe.
This is because breathing is your body’s “master regulator.” The way you breathe impacts every system in your body – including your nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, muscular, skeletal, immune – and more. Therefore, good breathing mechanics lead to a cascade of benefits for your body, including:
- A stronger core
- Less pain or injuries
- Fewer issues with diastasis recti
- Reduced risk of pelvic floor dysfunction
- Improved posture
- Easier movement
- Better immunity
- Less stress
- Improved digestion
- Increased energy
- Better focus
- Easier labor
- Healthier fetal growth environment
That’s quite a list. But what does “good breathing mechanics” mean? How do you ensure you are breathing in a manner that helps you reap all these great benefits? We accomplish this through a style of breathing we call 360° Breathing (AKA the #1 most effective exercise).
Read on to learn:
- How to perform 360° Breathing
- How to incorporate 360° Breathing into movement
- Why 360° Breathing is so effective, especially during pregnancy and postpartum recovery.
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.
How to Incorporate 360° Breathing into Movement
360° Breathing is not just meant to be an “exercise” you perform from time to time. The goal is to integrate 360° Breathing into your movements. This dramatically improves the effectiveness of every move you do, while also protecting your core.
We incorporate 360° Breathing into movement by “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, like 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, like standing up from that squat, curling your arms in the bicep curl, or lifting the object from the ground.
Exhaling on the effort allows you to generate the force necessary to lift, push, pull, etc., while decreasing the pressure within your core, which is especially important during pregnancy given the already elevated pressure in the core from the growing belly.
Finally, remember that the greater the intensity of the movement, the stronger the exhale should be. For example, if you are bending over to pick up your keys from the ground, you can 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.
Why 360° Breathing is so Effective
360° Breathing activates your “Core Canister” — a term we use to refer to the deep core muscles of your diaphragm (DPH), transverse abdominis (TVA), and pelvic floor (PF), shown below. These muscles form the shape of a canister with the DPH at the top, the PF at the bottom, and the TVA —your largest and innermost abdominal muscle — wrapping around the sides.
As you inhale, your DPH pushes downward, while your TVA and PF lengthen in response. As you exhale, the opposite happens. The DPH rises, while the TVA and PF draw in and up, respectively. This “dynamic pumping” action in the Core Canister is what helps to regulate pressure in your core and enable you to reap all those benefits described at the top of this post.
Pressure regulation is especially important during pregnancy because the growing belly increases the pressure within the core (intra-abdominal pressure). Therefore, it’s important to avoid further elevating this pressure, as that could exacerbate things like Diastasis Recti (DR) and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD).
To learn more about how 360° Breathing affects your body — especially your nervous system — see this post, which explains further how the way you breathe impacts your health.
Additional Resources: Training Programs & Courses
If you are pregnant (or planning to be) or postpartum, explore our range of pre & postnatal programs and services. Whether you are looking for education, self-guided training programs, or a personal trainer, we have a variety of offerings to help you find what you need to safely, effectively, and confidently exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
Finally, if you are a health & fitness professional interested in learning how to train pre & postnatal clients, or coach them more effectively in a group fitness setting, explore our Pre/Postnatal Professional Education.