Forced Exhalation Breathing and Exercise
What is the purpose of Forced Exhalation Breathing, and why should I teach it? Teaching clients to use a Forced Exhalation breath during class can be one of the most challenging parts of teaching the Integrated Movement Xercize formula (IM=X). Teachers often sound like a broken record telling clients when to use the breath to tighten their abs. Clients often resist the instruction, thus not using this valuable Fundamental at all, which can be frustrating for teachers and which also makes the exercises less stable. Is there a way to make it easier? Is it really all that important anyway? The answer to both questions is YES!
As IM=X teachers we are taught the FE breath should happen just before every exercise performed in the IM=X program. Often though, we as teachers don’t completely understand the reasons behind using the breath and don’t take time before a class starts to fully teach it. We’ve all been there, clients come in (sometimes even after the class has begun), lay down on the Xercizer ready to go, and we move right into action immediately assuming they already know what to do. Unfortunately, this is often not the case and many clients and some teachers confuse the need for oxygen with the purpose of the FE breath.
The FE breath is a Deep Diaphragmatic Breath designed to activate deep core muscles in the body for more efficient muscle recruitment and better overall stabilization. When we deeply understand how and why this works it becomes easier to explain to others. When we feel it active and present in our own bodies, it becomes easier to teach our clients.
So what is a Forced Exhalation breath and why do we have to cue it?
Breathing or the process of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide is really just an interplay of shape change between the abdominal and thoracic cavities. When we breathe, air is forced into the lungs by the atmospheric pressure that surrounds us, much like a vacuum. The exhale is simply a passive reversal of this process as the lungs spring back to their initial volume. On average, at rest, we take 16 breaths per minute. This translates to 960 breaths and hour, 23,040 breaths a day & 8,409,600 breaths a year. Thank goodness we don’t have to think about each and every one to stay alive!
The diaphragm is the principle muscle of breathing and is essentially the engine that drives the car (our body). The transversus abdominis is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and has the most direct effect on the diaphragm because it attaches to the same place. The fibers of both muscle are interwoven at right angles to one another making them natural antagonists. The transversus abdominis also intersects with the muscles of the pelvic floor causing a synergistic co-contraction of these two muscles. Other accessory muscles include the external obliques, the internal obliques, and the intercostals. When we create resistance to the outflow of air as in the FE breath, we are able to activate all these muscles. The FE breath is the key that ignites the engine and creates not only very efficient muscular contractions, but strong core stabilization. Targeting the timing of this breath to just before an exercise, ensures the exercise itself is safe and effective.
Teach your clients to place their hands on their ribcage to assist in feeling the diaphragm at work. As they breathe in, ask them to feel the expansion of the ribcage into their hands and then cue them to create resistance to the outflow of air by blowing the air out through pursed lips. Some good images are blowing air through a straw, or blowing out a candle across the room, or blowing up a balloon. As they exhale, cue them to contract the abdominal muscles deeply and feel the ribcage floating down to release the neck and shoulders.
Joseph Pilates referred to breath as being of the body, of the mind and of the spirit. IM=X Pilates has taken the next step in training to include the FE breath as an essential exercise based on years of research by Elyse McNergney. For a review, there are numerous research studies on the relationship of the diaphragm, transversus abdominis and pelvic floor included in the IM=X Basic Certification manual. Teaching our clients to use the FE breath correctly will coordinate the deep core muscles for greater strength, efficiency and effectiveness in exercise and can have the added effect of reducing tension and calming the mind.