Your body is under constant pressure from its external environment and what’s going on inside it. And this pressure is necessary – it keeps your blood circulating and your digestion moving. In relation to having good ‘core function’, the pressure we’re interested in is Intra Abdominal Pressure (IAP). Anyone who experiences core and pelvic floor issues tends to have habits that place excess pressure in the system.
So, just where is this pressure?
The deep muscles of your core encase the abdominal cavity. Their job is to house your visceral organs: the liver, stomach, spleen, digestive tract, kidneys, and pelvic organs. There’s pressure within the abdominal cavity, a bit like an inflated balloon – this is the IAP.
How does the core manage IAP?
The main job of your core function is to manage IAP on a daily basis.
When you breathe in the diaphragm contracts and flattens downwards, this increases IAP. In order to maintain IAP, the pelvic floor and abdominal wall muscles lengthen under load just like the bed of a trampoline does when someone lands on it.
When you breathe out the diaphragm returns to its resting position creating a recoil on the pelvic floor and abdominal wall muscles returning them to their resting position too.
This process maintains consistent pressure within the abdomen. It also helps it to manage coughs and sneezes amongst many activities that increase the IAP. If all the parts aren’t working well together then we many notice that the management needs some improvement when put under high pressure.
What factors can improve IAP management?
Mobility: Stiffness, tension, and tightness anywhere in the body will have a knock-on effect elsewhere. When we lack movement in one area, it will be taken from another. Movement in the pelvis, spine, and ribcage are essential to good core function.
Stop Belly Breathing: The abdominal muscles are designed to assist breathing. If the tummy muscles are ‘doing’ the work, they are creating more IAP. Just think what happens to the air inside a balloon when you squeeze it. This pushes pressure forward or down which long-term can compromise the muscles and supporting ligaments, tendons, and fascia.
Stop Holding Your Stomach In: Resisting the natural movement in the abdomen increases IAP. This time restriction forces the pressure downwards on to the pelvic floor. The core is also designed to work reflexively. Holding the stomach in stops this from happening. Without reflexive ability we cannot have core stability.
Improve Postural Patterns: The core works best when the diaphragm and pelvic floor are positioned directly above and below each other. Often our postural habits change this alignment.
Core Engagement Strategy: How we engage our core also has an impact on how pressure is managed. For a variety of reasons, we may have developed the habit of bulging, bracing, or bearing down as a strategy to support the core. All of these direct the pressure where we don’t want it. Teaching the core to work more reflexively will support core function.
The power of the breath when restoring core function
Good strength and flexibility of the pelvic floor and abdominal wall muscles are essential in restoring core function.
It’s important to be aware that most training techniques generate greater IAP when performed. If IAP is not managed well at optimal pressure, performing ‘core strength’ exercises such as sit-ups or planks can make your symptoms worse.
The best way to restore good core function is to start with the breath. This will help manage IAP and can make a big difference to resolving symptoms of core dysfunction.
In our ‘Do More 4 Your Core’ programme we’ll help you create optimal breathing patterns that improve muscle tone through a training method that incorporates a specialised breathing technique to reduce the IAP.
To learn more about the courses I run, or to simply ask a question, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.