If you’ve ever been to an exercise class or worked with trainer, you’ve likely been cued to “draw your belly button into your spine”. Well hopefully you have, because this is a very important cue when performing many exercises, such as lunging, squatting, doing pushups, planking, especially of holding weight.
This small but significant movement allows the deepest abdominal muscles, the Trasversus Abdominis (TVA) to stabilize the spine during movement, which helps to prevent injury and keep your lower back healthy.
The problem with this cueing is that many people have lost the mind body connection to really understand what draw your belly button into your spine really means, which makes it an impossible task.
One of the reasons that we lose this awareness is because we’ve lost the connection to our breath.
Yes, of course we all breathe, we do it involuntarily, but most of us begin to breathe from our chest without even realizing it. I know I did! I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but what I would have given for someone to have taught me to breathe properly during exams and presentation when I was in university!
Anyways enough about me…
If you practice proper breathing then the drawing in action that happens as you exhale comes naturally as your diaphragm returns to its natural position, while the belly flattens.
So what should proper breathing look like?
If you’ve ever paid attention to a baby breathe, you will notice that they breathe first by expanding their belly and then flattening their belly as they exhale. Well, that is how efficient breathing look like.
Approximately 70-80% of breathing should begin at the diaphragm, and only 20-30% from the accessory respiratory muscles.
Inhale: diaphragm contracts, pulls lower part of the lungs downward and our belly expands.
Exhale: The diaphragm and lungs relax and return to their resting position.
How will proper breathing help you?
By working on proper breathing technique you will:
- Maximize your ability to bring oxygen into your body, which makes you feel energized, and reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.
- This of course will also help you go faster, stronger, longer during exercise, with less effort.
- Reduce lactic acid buildup, so you are able to work out more effectively
- Reduce the incidence of injury from lack of stability
Test your own breathing by standing in front of a mirror with good posture.
- Inefficient breathing looks like this: your shoulders rise above your ears as you inhale and your chest expands.
- Efficient breathing looks like this: If you place your hands at your hips, you feel your thumbs moving outwards as you inhale and you see your belly expand.
How to Improve the Way you Breathe:
If breathing from your belly seems un-natural, then you are not alone, but improving the way you breathe is totally doable. In fact, if you practice it daily then it will become second nature.
Many people find that taking up a yoga practice improves breathing significantly. But if yoga is not your thing, then you can begin by practicing the following exercise:
4 Point Tummy Vacuum:
This is a fantastic exercise to build awareness of expanding the belly during inhalation. It is also a great exercise to begin strengthening the deep abdominal muscles (the Transversus Abdominus – TVA).
- Begin in tabletop position with your hips lined up over your knees and your shoulders, wrist and hands in line.
- It is important that you also maintain a neutral spine throughout this exercise
- Inhale and let your belly drop towards the floor. Yup, let it all hang out!
- Exhale and draw your belly button towards your spine. Making sure that your back stays in neutral position – do not flex the spine or rotate the pelvis.
- Hold for a 10 seconds, or until you feel that you need to inhale again.
- Repeat at least 10 times.
This exercise can be used as part of an exercise program and done daily to improve breathing and core function, but keep in mind that if you are not breathing you are not stabilizing the lumbar spine.
When you feel comfortable doing this exercise you can progress to doing this same exercise sitting and then standing.
Hope this simple exercise helps you to breathe better during your workouts!
- Chek P. Scientific Core Conditioning, correspondence course and video cassette series. Encinitas, CA: A Chek Institute Publication, 1993, 1999.