Whether it is walking, playing sports, or lifting weights, we have to be able to stabilize our bodies to protect ourselves from injury and maximize performance. Creating a stable core allows every muscle we contract to push/pull off of a strong base.
Prior to every movement, we need to stabilize the spine. This is our first line of defense against spine-based injuries. In order to provide this stabilization, we must contract the core. You may be surprised to find the most effective way to achieve this is through our breathing.
The foundation of all stability in the body begins with pressure in the abdomen. We explain why and how to perfect this to protect yourself in the next sections.
It helps to picture your abdominal cavity like a can of coke.
When you have an unopened can, it can withstand excessive amounts of force. You can stand on it and it will support your weight. When the can is open and empty, it easily collapses. The same concept applies.
The pressure causes the core muscles to eccentrically contract (a type of muscular contraction that occurs when muscles create tension while lengthening) together, and the muscles act as the “walls” of the can.
When we master creating this pressure, our spine is protected during any static or dynamic movements. For athletes, it allows them to generate more force because their muscles are pulling on a strong static structure.
In order to take a breath, there are several different groups of muscles that can be used to start the movement. We as humans have unconsciously become lazy and will breathe with accessory breathing muscles. Accessory muscles are those in our neck and chest which cause the ribcage to rise in order to create space for our lungs to expand.
To create strong, intrabdominal pressure we must breathe with our diaphragm.
Our diaphragm is our designated breathing muscle and frequently underutilized. When we breathe with our diaphragm the muscle depresses, creating more room for the lungs to expand. Concurrently the volume in our abdomen decreases, resulting in increased pressure.
We can visualize this simply by looking at our stomach while we breathe in. If you are increasing pressure correctly, the stomach will expand forward. The chest and shoulders should not rise. Ideally, your sides will also expand, and if you’re doing a really good job, you may even notice some expansion adjacent to the spine in your lower back.
When you've done that, it's time to move on to the next module.