As a personal trainer I naturally like working the muscles of the body and utilizing the functions of them. In fact, throughout my earlier days, I would create a favorite “muscle of the month” that I would choose to work on to find new exercises for muscle leanness. In those days it was largely about the bigger superficial muscles and less about the smaller supporting muscles.
As I became more experienced as a trainer I began to have a deeper appreciation for those muscles groups that really stabilize and support the body from the inside out.
Two internal muscles come to mind that are beneficial for the foundational and metabolic support of the body. These two muscles are the diaphragm and the pelvic floor. These two internal muscles of the body are big supporters of the respiratory system (diaphragm) and the endocrine system (pelvic floor muscles).
The diaphragm aids the body in respiration by being its main source for breathing. This muscle is dome-shaped and is located between the breast and abdominal region of the body.
We contract the diaphragm to breathe in and out. When you breathe in, the diaphragm moves downward towards the abdomen and when you exhale the diaphragm moves upward towards the wall of the chest.
When the diaphragm is conscientiously stimulated through various breathing exercises it promotes good lung capacity and better circulation for the body. It can also aide in keeping various ailments at bay such as acid reflux.
Exercise systems that promote the use of the breath extensively would be yoga and Pilates. Most health professionals and body workers consider breathing an exercise in itself. Breathing exercises are highly beneficial to incorporate as a part of your weekly wellness regimen.
Exercise to try – Belly Breathing
1. Lie flat on your back to get a proper sense of deep breathing.
(Have some small pillows available to reduce strain by tucking them under the neck and knees. The natural course of breathing in that position will create a slight rise in the stomach upon inhaling and a slight fall upon exhaling).
2. Place your hands palm down on your stomach at the base of the rib cage (The lungs go that far down). What fills the lungs deeper with air
is the pushing down of the diaphragm.
The diaphragm creates a suction which draws air into the lungs. The air is then expelled when the diaphragm pushes up. In this process, the life-giving oxygen fills the lungs and gets into the blood stream for distribution to the cells. Carbon dioxide is expelled from the blood into the about-to-be exhaled breath, thus cleansing the body and blood of waste products.
3. Lay the palms of your hands on your stomach just below the rib cage, middle fingers barely touching each other, and take a slow deep breath. (As the diaphragm pushes down, the stomach will slightly expand causing the fingertips to separate somewhat).
This movement indicates full use of the lungs, resulting in a truly deep
breath rather than the “puffed chest” breath experienced by many as the
greatest lung capacity.
4. FOR BEST RESULTS, PRACTICE THIS EXERCISE FOR 5 MINUTES.
The Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles, nerves and fascia that are complex. These guys are found within the pelvic region of both men and women's bodies that attach to the front pelvic bones of the body and the back of the coccyx.
The pelvic floor muscles have three main functions which are
- to support internal smooth muscle functions of the anus,
- to support and control the flow of urine through the bladder
- to help supply sexual function
A loss in the support of the pelvic floor muscles is often common in more women than in men and at earlier stages in life. This is largely due to a woman baring multiple children.
When a woman is pregnant, the pelvic floor muscles can become strained over time due to the weight of the baby. For men pelvic floor concerns are attributed from poor prostate health which can result in a lack of urinal flow in older age.
However, certain exercises such as contracting and isolating the pelvic floor muscles can help tone and prevent the effects dysfunctions from happening or further increasing in both men and women. Exercise systems that support pelvic floor toning are Pilates and some forms of yoga.
Exercise to Try – The Kegal (for both men and women):
1. Find the right muscles. The next time your body requires you to urinate try to stop the flow of urine. If you succeed, you've found the pelvic floor muscles.
Don't make a habit of starting and stopping your urine stream, though. Doing Kegel exercises with a full bladder or while emptying your bladder can actually weaken the muscles, as well as lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder — which increases the risk of a urinary tract infection.
2. Perfect your technique. Once you've identified your pelvic floor muscles, empty your bladder and sit or lie down. Contract your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
3. Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on tightening only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
4. Repeat three times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day. You might make a practice of fitting in a set every time you do a routine task, such as checking email, commuting to work, preparing meals or watching TV.
Ava Adames is an Exercise Physiologist, ACE certified personal trainer, wellness coach, and
Polestar certified equipment and mat Pilates Instructor, as well as an AAAI/ISMA mat Pilates teacher’s trainer. Ava is the owner and operator of www.avaadamesfitness.com and www.thewellloft.com in Philadelphia, Pa.