Breathing is a core workout, and breath training is the first thing I prioritize with my postpartum clients regardless of delivery method. I know that may not make sense just yet, but I invite you to take a deep breath and listen in. I promise by the end of this post you’ll appreciate the role your breathing plays within your own body.
Before we dive in, let’s define the ‘core’ since there are a lot of different definitions, mostly incomplete ones. Your ‘core’ is SO MUCH MORE than that single six-pack ab muscle that usually gets all the credit…
WHO is your core?!
- Diaphragm Muscle
- Pelvic Floor (PF) Muscles
- Abdominal Muscles
- Deep Spine Muscles
The job that our core muscles do each day is so much more than what one muscle can do, so thank goodness we have a whole team to handle the job.
Where does breathing come in?
Breathing is the secret sauce for keeping our core stability team humming at its highest level of efficiency. It is necessary for keeping us alive, AND for coordinating the co-contractions of our core muscles.
Breathing facilitates the following automatically:
Inhale → diaphragm lowers to allow air in → reflexively relaxes the PF, abs, and deep spine muscles. The opposite happens when we exhale → diaphragm contracts to expel air out → reflexively co-contracting the PF, abs, and deep spine muscles.
Basically, your PF performs a kegel when you exhale, and relaxes it as you inhale without you controlling it. How cool is that?!
As you might imagine, this breathing + core coordination gets challenged throughout pregnancy as babe(s) grow. This is a normal part of pregnancy, AND it needs to be retrained postpartum, because it doesn’t magically revert back once the baby is earthside. This is why it becomes the first thing I review with my mamas as they recover AND in preparation for returning to fitness. Breathing + core coordination is STEP #1.
Know that you know the WHY behind how breathing is essential for coordinating our core system, let dive into HOW to use it in real life. Exploring how to use the different phases of our breath as we move through our day, as well as, during fitness activities is an important stepping stone towards postpartum recovery. This is also important for returning to more complex and/or high impact movements, and running.
So, when to use an inhale vs exhale?
- An inhale is recommended more often with the less challenging phase of a movement. This is due to the lengthening moment that is happening amongst the core team and pelvic floor muscles.
- An exhale is recommended more often with the more challenging phase of a movement. Think EXhale & EXertion. This is due to the cocontraction that’s generated through the core team when we breathe out, and how that cues the pelvic floor to lift and contract reflexively.
- BUT remember: the most efficient core system is one that continuously flows through BOTH inhale and exhale phases.
Now, how to use this intel:
- When someone’s first relearning, I start with the cues I listed above as a starting point. I teach my patients to notice what it feels like in their body to move while they breathe, and how the inhale vs exhale feels in their body as they squat, lunge, pick up their baby, etc. This is a very conscious process at first.
- Over time, I help with my clients get curious about what it feels like to lessen the conscious breathing control, and lean into letting their body respond to a task. What does their body choose naturally? How does that feel? If it doesn’t feel good, what happens if they change their breathing? We keep exploring like this so that they can learn to troubleshoot on their own and help their body become more proficient with responding automatically.
- The automatic response is what we need long term for movement to be efficient and enjoyable! No one wants to micromanage their breathing for everything. That’s no fun, nor is it the way our bodies were designed to move.
In summary, play with your breath! Explore what it feels like in your body. What do you notice?