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Improving Performance with Your Diaphragm and Pelvic Floor

performance running Jul 06, 2018

Strength and flexibility training along with skill practice are usual as we train for marathons, weightlifting competitions, tennis matches and golf tournaments. But have you ever thought about training your diaphragm?  What about your pelvic floor?

What if I told you there is one major key to training that many folks skip right over?  Would you try it?  Here is your chance.  The diaphragm is a large muscle in the body with direct connections to the lumbar and thoracic spine and ribs.  The pelvic floor mirrors the diaphragm- like the younger sibling that mimics the older- and has connections to the pelvis, sacrum and hip rotator musculature. What are the most common injuries and dysfunctions that WE see?  Low back, SI joint and hip!

“Core strength” is definitely a buzz word in the fitness industry these days.  And if you ask 5 people what it means, you are likely to get 5 different answers.  So first, let’s talk about the “core.”

What is the core?

Your core, or the “soda can," is made up of your deep abdominals in the front, back muscles in the back, pelvic floor on the bottom of diaphragm on the top.  These muscles work on concert to create pressure on your midline- think a full can of soda that has not been opened.  If there is weakness or dysfunction in one of these muscles, then the midline is depressurized- the can has been opened.


So as you run, lift weights, swing a tennis racket or play with your kids, this pressurized can is helping you create torque and move through space with both dynamic stability and mobility.  To learn more about this system, check out my blog about pelvic floor anatomy and leaking with exercise.

How can I train it?


No doubt your diaphragm works; you’re sitting here breathing right?  But you can train it to be strong and more effective with your training. A great place to start is the diaphragmatic breath.  Not only does this help us work towards full excursion of the diaphragm with a deep breath but it also help relax the pelvic floor.  Relaxation of the pelvic floor is just as important and being able to contract it!

Try the 90/90 breathing drill and see if you are able to focus on the moving the ribs cage out and up rather than shallow chest breathing.  This is essential for control.  To add more strength work, try blowing up a balloon in the same position and breathing pattern!


As far as the pelvic floor goes, I am definitely a proponent of seeking assistance from a women’s health PT before starting specific strengthening programs.  They can give you a better idea of what YOUR body needs- strength, endurance, relaxation. But a great place to start is imaging creating controlled amounts of tension through your pelvic floor.  This can be cued for most folks as avoiding passing gas or gently stopping a stream of urine. (Don’t ever actually stop your stream of urine, this is just a cue for a gentle contraction.) 

So this contraction should be as intense as the activity that you are performing.  Lifting a pencil would be perhaps a 2% contraction, where lifting a heavy couch might be closer to 100%.  This sliding scale applies to both pelvic floor and abdominal contractions. Only as much tension as needed for the task!

How does posture relate?

Going back to the soda can analogy- can you picture how bad posture is equivalent to having dented and bent my soda can?  Not idea for keeping that pressurized cylinder!  An easy example for this is running.  If you have the “grandma lean” from the hips rather than the ankles, your can is bent.  These folks tend to have back issues with running, perhaps some leaking and dysfunctional breathing.  Straighten up the can and breaths are less challenged and your back feels better!

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  • Practice correct breathing patterns. Maybe even blow up a balloon while you practice these.
  • Avoid max contractions of abs, pelvic floor, etc.  Create only as much pressure as needed for the task at hand.
  • Check out your posture during the activity that gives you pain.

​If you are dealing with back, hip, pelvic pain with activity try some of these strategies.  This can also improve your breathing and postures/form with fitness.  This merely scratches the surface but may stimulate some ideas about what is holding your training back.  After you try these, if you are still having issues or questions, come see us!  We love to help people like you get back to doing what they love and living a high functioning, pain-free life.

Thanks for reading,

​    Dr. Jackie, PT, DPT

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