Most of us can agree that as long as you are doing any kind of physical activity, you need to breathe. We have learned that breathing and abdominal function are inseparable (link to our last post), this means that the volume of your abdomen should change as the volume of your lungs changes (assuming there is no change in pelvic floor tone). The instruction that you may have heard to suck in, or draw your navel towards your spine does not necessarily make you contract your abdominal wall (as with most general instructions, not everyone will do what it is that the teacher means for them to do). Most people when given that instruction will just manipulate their diaphragm to adjust abdominal volume (in other words, limit the movement/volume of the breath). Abdominal wall engagement will look different for different people (some people will actually push outward when they engage). So, then how does one engage this wall and create intra-abdominal pressure (IAP)? Below is a sure fire method that is widely taught in many different schools of thought.
1) Be clear that you are breathing three dimensionally. Lay down on the floor with your knees bent and feet on the floor or legs resting on a support. If you take a deep breath, you should be able to get your torso to move in all 3 planes. Make sure your torso moves towards the ceiling and your back can expand towards the floor on an inhale; this is “front to back” movement. To find “up and down” breathe and try to track the movement of your inhale all way to the depths of your pelvic floor. You should be able to feel movement a few inches below the navel. Find “side to side” when you breathe in see if you can feel your rib cage expand laterally. Until you are able to breathe 3-dimensionally, the following practices will be difficult. So stop here and keep trying if you weren’t able to do it.
2) While still lying on the floor: As you exhale, your abdomen should release towards the floor. At the end of the exhale, use your hand (or have someone else do it) to gently press downwards on your belly and resist the downward movement of your hand, while still breathing. You might feel pressure in your abdominal cavity. GOOD, that means you are experiencing IAP!
3) See how quickly you can create this pressure, reactively. Pretend that someone is about to punch you in the stomach and brace. It should feel the same as step 2. You should be able to stay braced, and still breathe. The volume in your abdominal cavity will and should change, because you are still breathing, but you should be able to keep the muscle tone. And Voila… you have created intra-abdominal pressure!
To be clear, I am not saying that all you have to do to get a 6-pack is to sit on the floor and breathe a certain way. If this is something that you really wish to achieve, it would require a diet change and a consistent exercise regimen. It is, however, worth mentioning that proper breathing is required for proper form, which is required for efficient movement. Without this from it would be a lot harder to get the aesthetic of the 6-pack.