Have you ever noticed yourself holding your breath when you’re working out? Or while trying to lift/hold something heavy? What if I told you that your breath holding strategy was preventing your pelvic floor from supporting your body most fully? And because of your pelvic floor not being able to support you most fully, that breath holding strategy was also preventing you from reaching your full core connection potential? Yup, true story.
Let that point sink in for a hot second.
Did I just blow your mind a little right there?
Now you’re probably wondering,
“How is my breath connected to my core?!”
Don’t worry, girlfriend. I got you.
The cliff note version of this post: deploy an exhale to help further support your system whenever you lift, carry, squat, etc…This isn’t to say exhale and hold forever. Instead, what I mean is keep breathing through your activities and on each exhale breathe out like you’re blowing candles out. None of that wimpy quiet exhale stuff!
With each exhale, think about connecting your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles (especially the lower ones just below your belly button) from the bottom upward! Not just the belly button to spine. That’s like taking a balloon and pinching it in the middle – think about when that happens – the bottom bulge portion is like the pressure that gets directed down to your pelvic floor.
Instead, activate from the front of your public bone up towards the front of your ribcage, and without tucking your pelvis. When you inhale, let that muscular brace relax momentarily, let your pelvic floor lengthen, and then reconnect from the pelvis upward as your natural exhale cycle resumes.
If you’re performing a strength training move like a squat or lunge, play with inhaling as you lower, and exhaling (pelvic floor + abdominals connecting) as you power back up tall. This same breathing technique works with planks, also. Simply maintain your breathing and use each exhale to reconnect with your pelvic floor + abdominal contraction to improve your core connection.
In other movements where you can control the timing of things, pair the exhale phase with the harder phase of the exercise. This will do wonders for your strength gains as your core and pelvic floor will now be able to best support you!! This is also my recommendation when picking up little ones and/or heavy kiddo gear.
Now, the longer more detailed reason WHY this works:
Your breath has a direct impact on your core and pelvic floor connection. Therefore, knowing how and when to use it makes a huge difference in your body’s ability to load and unload your body effectively. In order to understand how this works, we first have to understand how our deep core system is organized and how it’s responsible for regulating our intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) to meet the demands of our activities.
So first, let’s introduce you to the deep core players: the diaphragm (primary breathing muscle), transversus abdominus, multifidi (deep back muscles), and pelvic floor.
Permission to use copyright image from Pelvic Guru, LLC pelvicguru.com
When we inhale, the diaphragm relaxes and lengthens towards the pelvis to allow for air to enter the lungs. When this happens, the pelvic floor also relaxes and lengthens to accommodate for this pressure change above. When we exhale, the opposite happens, creating a reflexive contraction in both the pelvic floor and diaphragm, causing them to lift in response to the pressure system that’s been decreased with our exhale.
This same reflex also assists with activating the abdominal muscles and deep spinal muscles simultaneously. Thus, the deep core team works together to create a muscular corset of support from the base of the pelvis, around the abdomen, and up to the ribcage (aka our entire torso). This deep core system is also responsible for managing the amount of IAP that’s created and utilized inside our torso while we exercise and perform day-to-day activities. We need a certain amount of IAP to help us move and lift well, otherwise we’d be a limp noodle trying to move around! However, there can be too much of a good thing if our IAP becomes too high for too long.
This increase in IAP becomes especially true during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum periods, when the body is already being asked to do SO much! This is often when individuals begin to deploy a breath holding strategy (often subconsciously!) or breathe more shallowly, resulting in more neck and upper chest muscles trying to create a sense of stability within the body as a compensatory strategy. Unfortunately, these altered breathing mechanics decrease the efficiency of the deep core system, and thus place increased forces on the pelvic floor and lower abdominal region. If not re-educated, this breath holding strategy prevents the core from regaining its full potential postpartum.
When there is too much pressure in our deep core system, the easiest direction for this pressure to be released is downward. As this pressure transfers downward, it places those increased IAP forces on the internal organs that live beneath the lower abdominals and inside the pelvic cavity, all of which are being supported by the pelvic floor. This means the pelvic floor now has to work hard to counteract this added pressure system, and eventually become unsuccessful. This often leads to symptoms of pelvic pain and/or heaviness, leakage challenges, feelings of general instability with movements, and can contribute to the lower abdominal “pooch” many women complain of postpartum.
So, what does this all mean?!
It means that BREATHING IS SUPER IMPORTANT!! For the obvious, in keeping us alive, and the less obvious, in optimizing our pelvic floor + abdominal muscle connection. Now you know why I’m always acknowledging breathing in our Workout Wednesday videos.
My challenge to you all – check in with your breathing this week. Do you notice yourself holding your breath with certain activities? If so, can you repeat the movement while breathing through it and use your exhale? What did you notice? Share your experiences in the comments below. And as always, if you have any questions or comments, drop those below too.