How to Improve Core Stability Part 1 – Diaphragmatic Breathing Test

Jun 22, 2008 | fitness

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the benefits of improving your core stability, and how you can improve yours.

Do you suffer from back pain? 80% of people suffer from chronic neck or back pain at some point in their lives, with the majority being posture related and preventable. You’ve probably seen people doing absurd things on giant balls, or performing what looks like a DUI test police would conduct. If you ask what on earth they are doing, they answer simply… ‘oh it’s my core stability program.’ Does this core stability stuff work, or could it be putting our body at risk?

The answer: Core stability exercises are one of the best ways to strengthen and retrain the body’s postural muscles to work effectively. They are excellent when you progress at the right speed, and bad for you if performed incorrectly. There is a fine line between these exercises helping or hurting your back. There are about 5 stages, and the key is to progress only when you have mastered one stage, no matter how long it takes to learn.

Stage #1: Diaphragmatic Breathing Test

This is the hardest stage to master! Whilst you are reading this begin to observe your breathing style. Don’t change anything, just observe. Place one hand on your sternum, in the middle of your chest. Place the other hand over your belly button. Now look down (or go stand in front of the mirror) and observe which hand moves more when you breathe in, top or bottom hand?

If you answered bottom hand, good work, you are a diaphragm breather and can progress to stage #2. Just make sure it’s not because you took some deep breaths, it’s all about your everyday breathing style.

If your top hand moved more, you are like most of the population, a shallow breather. This means when you breathe in, instead of using your deep intra abdominals to lower your diaphragm, the muscles of your upper rib cage, neck and shoulders lift your heavy rib cage to make room for your lungs (no wonder your neck and shoulders are tight!). Not only is it an extremely inefficient, laborious way of breathing, but it also means the deep muscles of lower abdominals get a free ride. These muscles are also the core stability muscles we need to strengthen. If they can’t even help your lungs to breath, what chance have we got of getting them to stabilise your back! So we need to get these guys doing what they were designed to do: help you breathe through your diaphragm.

How to breathe through your diaphragm:

  1. Whilst sitting in your chair, place your hands back in the above position, one on sternum and one on belly button.
  2. Breathe all the air out of your lungs, when you go to breathe in, don’t move your rib cage, instead, allow your tummy to relax and poke out.
  3. When you breathe out, draw your belly button through to your spine, like you were squeezing all the air out.
  4. Focus only on your bottom hand on your stomach, it should move out when you breathe in, and move in towards your spine when you breathe out.
  5. If you are struggling. Try doing it lying on your back, it’s easier.
  6. You must not progress to stage #2 until you are breathing this way unconsciously. This can take weeks. The more you focus on it, the faster your body adjusts. Make sure you can do it whilst exercising.

What type of breather are you, shallow or diaphragm? I would love to know how hard/easy you find this exercise. I believe this is the hardest stage to master, and until someone can breathe correctly, they will never be able to stabilise their backs properly.

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