Prevent Breathing Problems, Incontinence & Imbalance Problems by Strengthening This One Muscle
Shallow breathing, imbalance, falls, and incontinence are common signs of a weak core. For these reasons, a focus on this area of the body can help you to feel more grounded, secure, confident and healthy as you age.
You don’t need any money; you don’t need to go to the gym for this; you don’t even need any equipment to train your abs effectively. Your abs, or abdominals, are considered an important part of your core along with your diaphragm and pelvic floor. “Everyone always thinks of the big rectus abdominis, which is the six-pack muscle, as our core because that’s what you can see, especially if you’re on the beach in a bikini,” says Dr. Rebecca Ward, a physical therapist at Northside Hospital Rehabilitation Services in Alpharetta, Georgia, “but actually, the more important one is the deeper layer—the transverse abdominis, which forms a little bit more like a corset. It goes around from the spine around the sides and then connects in the front. And that’s the one that provides the support for internal organs when you’re breathing, when you’re bending, when you’re lifting.”
The transverse abdominis supports the diaphragm (a sheet of thin muscle that plays an important role in breathing) and the pelvic floor.
Proper breathing activates the inner core muscle—the transverse abdominis.
Practice deep breathing:
- Sit erect in a chair.
- Spine is in a neutral position. Rib cage and pelvis are aligned.
- Tighten butt and lock in abs.
- Feet should be shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor.
- Take 10 deep breaths.
The diaphragm and the pelvic floor work together like a piston, says Dr. Ward. As you exhale, the diaphragm is pushing up and the pelvic floor is pulling up. Then when you inhale, the diaphragm is pressing down and your pelvic floor also presses down in a relaxed or like an eccentric control way. The transverse abdominis wraps around and sort of forms the sides of the canister and helps control the pressure system.
However, a weak transverse abdominis can cause misalignment, and when the diagram and pelvic floor are out of alignment, they create imbalances and stiffness in the body.
When the pelvic floor is unable to tighten and relax, it is called pelvic floor dysfunction. Some symptoms include constipation, urine or stool leakage and a frequent need to urinate. The organs in the pelvic floor that are supported by the transverse abdominis muscle are uterus in women, prostate in men, and rectum at the end of the large intestine.
Exercises to improve pelvic floor:
- Lie down on the back, bend the knees, and place the feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Let the arms fall to the sides with the palms facing downward.
- Contract the buttocks and pelvic floor to lift the buttocks several inches off the ground.
- Hold this position for 3–8 seconds.
- Relax the buttocks and pelvic floor muscles to lower the buttocks to the ground.
- Repeat up to 10 times.
- Rest, then, perform up to 2 additional sets.
- As the strength of the pelvic floor increases, many people will find that they can do more repetitions.
- Stand with the feet hip-width apart, keeping them flat on the floor. Make sure your stance is narrow and not wide. A narrow stance activates the pelvic floor.
- Bend at the knees to bring the buttocks toward the floor, going only as low as is comfortable. Keep the back straight and leaning slightly forward. The knees should be in line with the toes.
- Focus on tightening the buttocks and pelvic floor while returning to a standing position.
- Repeat this exercise a total of 10 repetitions.
- Rest before performing any additional sets.
Sign up for our How to Keep Your Pelvic Floor Health workshop.
The transverse abdominis muscle also supports your balance. Dr. Ward describes it like a corset that wraps around the spine, which is kept stable during movement. In other words, this deep inner muscle keeps the spine locked in place or rigid so that you are stable while on your feet or sitting. Though other factors such as medication and eye or hearing problems can contribute to imbalance resulting in falls, you want to make sure a weak core is ruled out. The transverse abdominis impacts your balance by reacting to changes in body posture. However, if the transverse abdominis is not working correctly, other parts of the body that were not designed to provide such support have to compensate or help out. This causes other “muscles that are really designed to help support the spine to go on lock down because they’re trying to compensate for the transverse abdominis or the pelvic floor or the diaphragm because we’re not breathing well. So, when you try to move those muscles intended to allow movement, but instead they’re on lockdown trying to provide stability, injury can occur,” explains Dr. Ward.
Exercises for Balance
- March in Place March in Place—Sit/Stand Sit/Stand
- Toe/Heel Raises/Circle Toe/Heel Raises/Circle
- Front or Side Lunges
In addition, Dr. Ward recommends a lot of weight-shifting exercises—anything that provides you or makes you move side to side, or front to back. Unsteady surfaces or standing on soft surfaces versus firm surfaces, can be a difficult. For example, just standing outside on grass can be difficult for some people because it’s not as firm as walking in the house on that hard surface they are used to. Just changing up the surface that they’re standing on can be a good balance challenge.
Then, there are other exercise such as pilates that are designed to strengthen the core. Holistic exercises like tai chi and qigong are also very effective because they are easy on the joints and they strengthen the core—improving balance, stability and breathing.
The core helps to control the following functions: respiration, continence, movement generation, and stabilization.
- The core is the midsection of the body.
- The core is involved in almost every movement made in everyday life, work and sport.
- The core should be solid and strong.
- The core helps to control the flow of energy between the trunk (upper body) and lower body.
- The core helps you maintain your balance and stability.
- The core is made up muscles that wrap around your stomach all the way to your back. These muscles include the rectus abdominus (the six-pack ab muscles), the internal and external obliques (the muscles running down the side of your torso), the transverse abdominus (the innermost layer of muscle surrounding your spine), the hips, and the lower back.
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