How to Improve Core Stability Part 1 – Diaphragmatic Breathing Test

Amelia Phillips

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This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the benefits of improving your core stability, and how you can improve yours.

Do you suffer from back pain? 80% of people suffer from chronic neck or back pain at some point in their lives, with the majority being posture related and preventable. You’ve probably seen people doing absurd things on giant balls, or performing what looks like a DUI test police would conduct. If you ask what on earth they are doing, they answer simply… ‘oh it’s my core stability program.’ Does this core stability stuff work, or could it be putting our body at risk?

The answer: Core stability exercises are one of the best ways to strengthen and retrain the body’s postural muscles to work effectively. They are excellent when you progress at the right speed, and bad for you if performed incorrectly. There is a fine line between these exercises helping or hurting your back. There are about 5 stages, and the key is to progress only when you have mastered one stage, no matter how long it takes to learn.

Stage #1: Diaphragmatic Breathing Test

This is the hardest stage to master! Whilst you are reading this begin to observe your breathing style. Don’t change anything, just observe. Place one hand on your sternum, in the middle of your chest. Place the other hand over your belly button. Now look down (or go stand in front of the mirror) and observe which hand moves more when you breathe in, top or bottom hand?

If you answered bottom hand, good work, you are a diaphragm breather and can progress to stage #2. Just make sure it’s not because you took some deep breaths, it’s all about your everyday breathing style.

If your top hand moved more, you are like most of the population, a shallow breather. This means when you breathe in, instead of using your deep intra abdominals to lower your diaphragm, the muscles of your upper rib cage, neck and shoulders lift your heavy rib cage to make room for your lungs (no wonder your neck and shoulders are tight!). Not only is it an extremely inefficient, laborious way of breathing, but it also means the deep muscles of lower abdominals get a free ride. These muscles are also the core stability muscles we need to strengthen. If they can’t even help your lungs to breath, what chance have we got of getting them to stabilise your back! So we need to get these guys doing what they were designed to do: help you breathe through your diaphragm.

How to breathe through your diaphragm:

  1. Whilst sitting in your chair, place your hands back in the above position, one on sternum and one on belly button.
  2. Breathe all the air out of your lungs, when you go to breathe in, don’t move your rib cage, instead, allow your tummy to relax and poke out.
  3. When you breathe out, draw your belly button through to your spine, like you were squeezing all the air out.
  4. Focus only on your bottom hand on your stomach, it should move out when you breathe in, and move in towards your spine when you breathe out.
  5. If you are struggling. Try doing it lying on your back, it’s easier.
  6. You must not progress to stage #2 until you are breathing this way unconsciously. This can take weeks. The more you focus on it, the faster your body adjusts. Make sure you can do it whilst exercising.

What type of breather are you, shallow or diaphragm? I would love to know how hard/easy you find this exercise. I believe this is the hardest stage to master, and until someone can breathe correctly, they will never be able to stabilise their backs properly.

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    absolutely i agree.. ;)
    proper posture would be the best way to relieve all the pains..

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi mksol,
    Yes it’s amazing how most issues are fixed with correct posture work. If I had a client with perplexing symptoms, I always started with breathing and progressed from there. Some people responded quickly, others slowly, but they always improved and I am confident that they continued to improve after their training was finished.

  • Beauty Tyrant

    Hey Amelia,

    That’s really informative. Now, I’m really not sure whether am I breathing correctly :) I’ll try to observe next time when I’m not too conscious about it

    I totally agree with a good posture. Not only does it align your body properly, it also alleviates unnecessary weight on the organs, or so I read somewhere. Also, a good posture looks great too. Gosh, I’m such a beauty junkie :P

  • Addiction Treatment

    i agree too.maintain your correct posture and there wont be any back pain.

  • Addiction Treatment

    do exercise daily and properly… this will keep your back more flexible and disease free

  • Pkay

    I totally agree with the breathing. It wasn’t until I started teaching and learning more about Yoga that I began to really understand the breath. Also, exercising daily and working on those back muscles really helps. thanks for sharing.

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Beauty Tyrant,

    Yes try observing your breathing when you are doing it naturally rather than trying too hard. Just remember it’s your lower abdomen that should come out as you breathe in and draw in towards your spine as you breathe out. keep trying, it will feel completely natural after a while…

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Addiction treatment,

    Keeping your back flexible is really important, yoga and pilates will help as well.

  • JohannaK

    This is very informative. As I spend a lot of time behind a desk, my posture is indeed of great importance to my back’s health. Your blog is very helpful, I hope I can achieve the same with a blog a
    I just started. It’s at
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  • Tom Parker

    Just found your post and tried the breathing exercise test and I think I am a diaphragm breather. I noticed my stomach moved out but it didn’t squeeze in unless I really concentrated. I think I’ll keep doing this exercise for five minutes each morning while I have my coffee. Hopefully, after a few days I won’t have to think about it and the breathing will come naturally.

  • Amelia Burton

    Hi Tom,

    Well if you can breathe through your diaphragm then you are leaps ahead of most. Once you feel confident with your breathing, read my core stability part 2 and 3, and before long you’ll be doing some crazy stuff with your core!

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  • Mike

    mike said…
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    August 19, 2008 10:59 PM

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