“Core” is a popular term in fitness nowadays. But, like most buzzwords, it can very easily be stripped of its meaning and reduced to a flashy, popular selling point. And while getting a sexy set of abs is an admirable goal, the core does much more than just make you look good in a swimsuit.
Most folks know the basic anatomy of the core: the rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, the muscles of the lower back, and even the transversus abdominus. But there are two other players that seem to always fly below everyone’s radars: the diaphragm and the pelvic floor muscles.
So What the Heck Are They (and Why Should I Care)?
The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle beneath the lungs. To breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and moves downward, creating a vacuum in the lungs (which fills them with air).
Well...that’s how it’s supposed to work, anyway. Poor posture and constant sitting push many of us away from proper breathing patterns and into patterns that rely more heavily on the chest and shoulder muscles to do the work. We lift up, expand the lungs, and they fill with air. Though this effective in that it allows us to breathe, it’s far from ideal.
Next time you’re around one, take a look at a cat or a baby breathing: you’ll see that their breath causes their belly to expand rather than their chest. This is the way it should be:
The Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor, if you can believe it, sits at the bottom of the pelvis. It’s a small system of muscles that bridges the gap between both sides and, to put it plainly, “holds things up and in.”
What people tend to forget about the pelvic floor is that, like other muscles, it requires exercise to stay strong and functional. [Don’t worry - I’m not talking about Kegels.] If it never gets any use, it will become weak and loose. Not only will this make stabilizing the spine more difficult, it can also lead to other issues like incontinence.
The bladder sits on top of the pelvic floor, and the urethra runs between the muscles to the outside of the body. These muscles are what contract and expand to control the flow of urine. Ever bounced or hopped and then had to run to the bathroom? It’s likely because the pelvic floor muscles weren’t strong enough to handle the sudden added pressure.
Exercising the Pelvic Floor
This is where breathing low with the diaphragm comes into play. When you breath using your diaphragm, your diaphragm pushes down. This downward movement pushes on everything underneath. And at the bottom of it all? The pelvic floor muscles.
Deep, low breathing gives the pelvic floor muscles the regular, consistent, low-level exercise it needs to stay strong.
And a stronger pelvic floor equals better bladder control.
You’re welcome :-)