Training your diaphragm muscle
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, June 2, 2009 08:55 AM
I have already talked about importance of training diaphragm muscle on my website. Please visit the Abdomen Page to review this information. However, since then I haven't been talking about diaphragm at all. And from my own experience and my students I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a strong diaphragm muscle. It is absolutely vital component of your strong core. Without training the diaphragm muscle you will not have a very efficient, playable, and strong core.
The diaphragm muscle is a flat sheet in a domelike shape that is located right under our lungs. It is attached to the bottom of our ribs all the way around our body from the spine to the breast bone. You can feel your diaphragm muscle if you curl your fingers under your lower ribs and try to breathe using your diaphragm. The muscle starts pushing your fingers out. Diaphragm plays a major role in our breathing. In reality it is the main breathing mechanism.
The diaphragm activates on inhale and pushes down/sideways creating a vacuum inside thoracic cavity (around your lungs). Lungs expand and draw air in. If you are laying down on your back and your stomach muscles are relaxed the diaphragm will push mostly down and raise your belly (hence, belly breathing). If you are active - walking, running, riding your horse - the diaphragm will not be able to push down because abdominal muscles are working. In this case it will push sideways and flare your lower ribs in a similar manner the fish's gills are flared. This sideway push of the diaphragm is directed all around your ribcage. And with a little bit of training you can modify and emphasize a particular direction. This is incredibly useful tool during riding because you can improve solidity and connection in your weak areas. For example, your instructor telling you that you have collapsed to the left. Instead of trying to stretch up or lean to the right focus on directing your inhale into the left side of your ribcage. You will straighten and improve your left side without compromising other areas.
On exhale the diaphragm relaxes and springs back into domelike shape and pushes air out. Abdominal muscles aid the diaphragm in this process to push air out more effectively. This should be done under control. You need to let go gradually in a similar way you put down an object on a table. You do not drop it relaxing your arm. You put it down carefully by slowly letting your biceps muscles to lengthen. It is called Eccentric Contraction. You use the same mechanism to release your diaphragm.
During riding breathing with the diaphragm is very important to get enough air in and to enhance your core stability. However, it is not easy to breathe with the diaphragm during riding. Your diaphragm must be strong enough and you should develop a good habit of breathing with your diaphragm in any circumstances. Plus you need to develop enough awareness to catch yourself when you go into upper chest and shoulders paradoxic breathing where diaphragm stays relaxed and stretched on inhale. Besides the fact that this type of breathing activates your "flight and fight" instincts (not something you want during riding) it greatly undermines your core stability and control.
To help develop your diaphragm muscle and create a habit of diaphragmatic breathing:
  • Pay attention to the way you breathe. Learn to refocus on your breathing as often as possible. Just a quick check, activate your diaphragm if you lost it and go by your business
  • If you involved in any kind of fitness program either at your local club or at home pay very close attention to how you breathe during exercises. It should be diaphragmatic, regular and coordinated, exhaling on exertion and inhaling during rebounce, or exhaling when you are bending and inhaling when you are straightening.
  • Click on the Correct Breathing page to check out specific exercises for the diaphragm muscle.
  • If you visit massage or physiotherapist ask them on how to enhance your diaphragmatic breathing
  • Take a few Yoga classes or find a book at your local library on Yoga/breathing
Do not expect a quick success. It takes time and dedication to develop and train your diaphragm muscle. However, you will reap wonderful benefits from it. Strong diaphragm and good core stability will help you to become more balanced and connected to your horse, stay with his movement, controll and modify his movement, sit through his spooks, sit his trot and canter better, etc.
Happy riding...
Comment by Francis Appiah on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 08:17 PM
Your topics are very informative. Keep up the good work !
Comment by steve daniels on Monday, January 20, 2014 09:17 AM
very very informative. i was having problem understanding how to breathe in the right manner as i am a singer. simply awesome.... will start practicing immediately thank you very very much steve daniels
Comment by Mike Murphy on Saturday, March 5, 2016 11:56 AM
I was diagnosed with diaphragmatic paralysis but could never understand what that meant. Your comments very informative about how the diaphragm works. Thanks.
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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