Toned abs are so much more than the product of one million crunches. The core is a complex grouping of muscular structures that requires work from all angles.
But a sculpted core is not just about looking great naked. Core strength is a pillar of health: It helps support our weight, absorb shock in accidents, protect our backs and legs from injury, aid our body in heavy lifting, improve our respiratory system, and support healthy, comfortable posture as we age and, well, simply stand.
We have to work our core from all angles to build it up and tone it properly – and luckily, most workout moves involve some core. Squats, rowing, push ups, inner thigh abductor moves … Almost any exercise done in the correct form will involve stabilizing the core. But one little known fact? Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, can also help strengthen the core, and even give the aesthetic definition many of us crave to achieve (when practiced with a healthy diet and exercise, of course).
Diaphragmatic breathing is not the typical involuntary breath we do all day, every day. It’s incredibly intentional, and involves breathing deeply, expanding the belly out like a balloon on the inhale as we fill with air. This causes our diaphragm to experience pressure, and our innermost abdominal muscles (in fact, many of the same muscles targeted in a plank pose) are gently but significantly lengthened – giving them a long, lean stretch.
On the exhale, we expel all of the air out of the diaphragm, contracting the inner abdominal muscles tightly and shortening them for a tight clench. (The diaphragm feels like the belly – even though we know there isn’t actually air in the belly, it does fill up the abdominal region inside the diaphragm.)
Doing this breathing exercise regularly not only lowers heart rate and cortisol – and is a great way to cool down from an intense workout – but also helps to both build strength and flexibility to the inner abdominal muscles. Because we typically tend to work the outer and oblique abdominal muscles, it can be difficult to see toned results. Making sure to tone and stretch these inner muscles gives the core a 360-degree workout, and can even help strengthen those hard-to-reach areas like the lower abs and pelvic floor, which can become atrophied post-pregnancy.
Be mindful that both diet and genetics play an extremely large role in being able to see a washboard abdominal outline, and not everyone’s body is designed the same way – and hey, that’s the beauty in all of us! While some may see quicker results than others, diaphragmatic breathing is a healthy, stress-reducing way to strengthen and stretch crucial core muscles and improve posture. Even if only for that aspect, we’d all like to look a little better while standing up straighter, wouldn’t we?