Performing a tougher core routine isn't just about adding seconds to planks or reps to abs wheel rollouts.
New science from the Postural Restoration Institute shows that how you breathe during core exercises makes or breaks their worth. A simple trick of the breath can make each second and rep pack a bigger punch, strengthening the underused muscles deep in your core.
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Doug Kechijian, a doctor of physical therapy at Peak Performance in New York City shares three secrets that make each second you spend working your core infinitely more effective. (Need some killer core exercises to try these tips on? Here are 25 Awesome Abs Moves.)
1. Exhale Completely
"The whole point of most core exercises is to teach your body to protect your spine by not overextending your back," says Kechijian. "Exhaling completely before you do an exercise sets your rib cage down, not flared out, which is the best position to save your spine and activate your abs."
Before any core move, exhale completely so your ribs are "down," and maintain that rib position throughout the move. Breathe deeply in that position during the exercise.
2. Count Breaths, Not RepsIf you huff and puff while doing a core exercise, you're only activating the outer portion of your core.
"Doing relaxed, deep breaths allows your body to activate and strengthen your deep core," says Kechijian. "Working those muscles, such as your transversus abdominus and pelvic floor, provides more stability, which can make your body more efficient at performing nearly all physical tasks."
Do timed exercises like planks for deep breaths, rather than for seconds. Try to fill your entire torso with air during each breath, then forcefully blow all the air out. You're breathing deeply enough if your low back and sides—not your chest—expand each inhale.
3. Round Your Upper BackWeightlifting dogma says never round your lower back. But it's actually beneficial to round your upper back during ground based core exercises, like planks.
"Most people have tight upper backs. Rounding your upper back and breathing in that position releases tension and loosens those muscles, which can help you avoid injury," says Kechijian.
To do it, think of pushing your sternum into the ceiling, then breath deeply, trying to "fill" your upper lungs with air each breath.
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