Integrating the Core: the Diaphragm
The definition of core work varies from format to format and means different things to different people. My own perspective has evolved over 28 years of yoga, running, dancing, Pilates, shiatsu massage, cadaver dissection and opera singing. Of all the core muscles, the respiratory diaphragm seems to be the least utilized. While the value of spinal muscles, abdominal layers and back muscles are acknowledged and incorporated into formats like Pilates, GYROTONIC® and even kettlebell training, deep diaphragmatic exercises are relegated to rare yoga techniques and progressive vocal training. This is a major oversight.
Your primary breathing muscle is a lead player in maintaining whole-body health from the inside out. The diaphragm is not just designed to help you breathe; it tethers into the psoas and quadratus lumborum; lines the lower six ribs; serves as a soft-tissue platform for the heart; and is seamed together in the same fascial layer as the transverse abdominals (Hedley 2005–2009). The respiratory diaphragm is a barometer for the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems; is the governing muscle of breath; and is a physiological key for the nervous system. Shallow diaphragmatic breathing excites the body; deep diaphragmatic breathing relaxes and sedates the body. The diaphragm (and the nervous system) needs to be able to do both for health, restoration and optimal performance.
If the diaphragm’s attachments to the ribs, psoas and quadratus lumborum aren’t regularly stretched and relaxed, it can knock the wind out of your performance. The exercises below help unkink this innermost layer from the inside out. Your spine will feel more supported, and you’ll have a better chance to improve abdominal power.
Balls on Upper Back
Place two rubber balls (tennis balls are okay) along side of spine in upper-back region. Breathe slowly into ribs, rock from side to side and allow balls to massage rib joints. Spend 1–2 minutes on left side of spine, switch sides, move balls into lower thoracic spine and ribs, and repeat.
This exercise frees up intercostal tension; mobilizes rib joints and posterior diaphragm rib connections; and massages deep back musculature.
Abdominal Massage With Sponge BallPlace soft, inflatable sponge ball directly underneath navel. Using diaphragmatic breathing, breathe directly into ball while relaxing entire body. For 3–5 minutes, slowly shift from side to side to massage multiple abdominal layers.
This exercise familiarizes you with abdominal muscle tension, aids in stretching scar tissue and encourages the tough rectus sheath fascia to stretch. It also promotes core elasticity rather than rigidity and can alleviate lower-back pain by encouraging length in the transverse abdominals and obliques. Caution: People who have inguinal hernias should not try this exercise.
For more exercises for the diaphragm, please see “True Core Integration” in the online IDEA Library or in the June 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.
For the latest research, statistics, sample classes, and more, "Like" IDEA on Facebook here.
© 2012 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.
IDEA Newsletter Sign-up
|Extreme Interval Training
In this course you'll learn goal-focused intervals and over 50 dynamic exercises and drills to create extensive and intensive training formats.
|Cut to the Core
This is a raw, unedited video filmed live at the 2009 IDEA World Fitness Convention™. Cut to the Core is packed full of core-focused exercises that aim to improve the way you look, feel and live.
|September 2011 IDEA Fitness Journal Quiz 4: Plyometric Training
This continuing education quiz is an in-depth look at plyometric training. Plyometric exercises—jumping, bounding, hopping, arm pushing, and catching and throwing weighted objects such as machine balls—are movements that involve rapid eccentric and concentric muscle actions.