Breathing Exercises – Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises Boost Your Core

Breathing Exercises

Did you know that breathing exercises can promote pelvic floor strength and recovery?

How you breathe can impact upon your pelvic floor and effect your overall health and well being. Learning how to do diaphragmatic breathing exercises is simple and can be readily incorporated into your everyday life.

Read on now to learn:

  • What is diaphragmatic breathing?
  • Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing exercises for your health
  • How diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help your pelvic floor
  • Step by step diaphragmatic breathing exercise technique

What is Diaphragmatic Breathing?

Diaphragm breathing or abdominal breathing is a breathing exercise and technique that promotes deep breathing using your main breathing muscle- your diaphragm. The diaphragm is a dome–shaped muscle that sits under the lungs.

The image below shows how your diaphragm moves as you breathe. When you breathe in normally, your diaphragm contracts and moves downwards into your abdomen. This downward movement creates a vacuum inside your chest causing air to enter and fill up your lungs. You breathe out when your diaphragm relaxes and moves back up into your chest allowing air to leave your lungs.

Diaphragmatic movement

Benefits of Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is thought to benefit overall health in a number of ways:

  • Improve circulating oxygen levels
  • Reduce fatigue with exercise
  • Decrease blood pressure
  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Improve core deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscle function

Diaphragmatic Breathing and Core Muscles

The way you breathe affects the tone in your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. Your trunk is like a cylinder surrounded by muscles that should work together during breathing. The muscles surrounding your trunk clinder include your diaphragm (top of the cylinder), your deep abdominal muscles wrapping around your trunk (the sides of the cylinder) and your pelvic floor muscles at the base of this cylinder.

During regular breathing your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles are also active to help maintain pressure in your trunk cylinder. When you breathe in deeply during diaphragmatic breathing, the pressure inside your abdomen is increased so that your pelvic floor muscles need to contract even more strongly to maintain your continence.

Learning diaphragmatic breathing technique and practicing breathing exercises can help you promote the coordinated activity of your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. This is a vital first step in undertaking pelvic floor rehabilitation for prolapse or incontinence problems in women and men.

Posture, Breathing and Pelvic Floor Problems

You will notice that if you try to breathe deeply with slumped forwards posture, it is difficult to fill your lungs and breathe deeply. This is because when you are slumped your abdominal contents become compressed and your diaphragm can’t move downwards. This creates the need to use your upper chest muscles to help you breathe.

Slumped forward position and breathing with the upper chest muscles increase pressure on the pelvic floor; what’s more is that in this slumped forward position your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles can’t work well to counteract this increased pressure. This is why correct posture is very important in helping your diaphragm, pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to work well together.

If you live with a prolapse, bladder control problems good upright posture, diaphragmatic breathing exercises along with regular pelvic floor exercises can help you optimise your pelvic floor training.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises

Diaphragmatic breathing exercises aim to normalise breathing patterns so that the diaphragm is used appropriately with the trunk muscles during normal breathing so that upper chest breathing is minimised and the upper abdominal muscles are relaxed.

Starting Position

Start lying down with your head supported by a pillow and your knees bent. Place one hand on your upper abdomen just below your sternum and the other hand at the side of your chest on the lower part of your rib cage. Alternatively if you find you have difficulty performing this breathing technique lying down, try it sitting down with one hand placed on your upper abdomen to feel the outward movement with your in breath as shown below.

Feeling breathing exercises

Diaphragmatic Breathing Technique

Breathe in slowly and deeply so that you feel your belly rise under your hand. You may also notice your lower rib cage move wide under your other hand – remember the focus is upon keeping the upper chest muscles relaxed and using the diaphragm to breathe. This technique can be cued by thinking to “breathe into the belly”.

Breathe out by letting the rib cage fall back to resting. You should feel a gentle rise and fall of your belly under your hand.

Progressing Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises

When you have mastered diaphragmatic breathing exercises lying down, it is important to practice doing them sitting and standing upright. Don’t forget the need for good upright posture in allowing you to do your breathing exercises effectively. Try to then move around and walk with diaphragmatic breathing when you feel confident to do so.

How Many Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises?

Practice these breathing exercises at regular intervals throughout the course of your day when learning this technique. Try to breathe slowly and deeply using your diaphragm to inhale and let the air passively leave your body, don’t force the air out of your lungs. Do what feels comfortable for your body- a minute or two of diaphragmatic breathing when starting out is great. Then try to build on this up to five minutes at a time if you can.

Sometimes diaphragmatic breathing technique can make you feel a little out of breath when starting out, especially if you are accustomed to breathing with your upper chest. If this happens stop, take a break and try again later when recovered. Remember the ultimate goal is to promote a pattern of diaphragmatic breathing and reduce upper chest breathing as you go about your daily life. Regular daily practice will help you achieve this goal.

Inside Out Book & DVDABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway

Michelle Kenway is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and author of Inside Out – the Essential Women’s Guide to Pelvic Support, along with Dr Judith Goh Urogynaecologist. The Inside Out exercise DVD and book show women how to strengthen the pelvic floor and exercise effectively with pelvic floor safe exercises.


  1. Marg Nugent says:

    Thanks again Michelle, another wonderful exercise we can all do at home, it sure relieves stress and certainly helps with reducing my insomnia.

  2. Michelle Kenway says:

    Hi Marg,
    My pleassure – yes we can all benefit from this exercise to help us in one way or another that’s for sure

  3. Michelle Fraser says:

    Hi Michelle,
    This is a wonderful way to start and finish an exercise class. We do this often in my group training sessions. I also watched a post on FB recently by a lady called Dr. Libby and she added a wonderful extra to this fantastic little exercise.
    Close your eyes as you breathe and either say out loud or to yourself these words, “I am calm” as you breathe in, and, “I am smiling”, as you breathe out.
    Wonderful and relaxing……..hope many people put this technique to use.
    Cheers Michelle Fraser.

    • Michelle Kenway says:

      Wonderful ideas Michelle, thanks so much I will try this with my classes next week
      Thank you

  4. Hi Michelle
    Very helpful Michelle, I just tried it sitting at my desk (working very hard on a Friday afternoon) and was surprised at how much more I could breathe in, I did get a few funny looks, but that’s not unusual.
    Love your work

  5. Hi thank you for your help I just tried the breathing while reading and it does feel good. I have been doing Zomba class and balance and stretch class on Mondays for about 4weeks now, I am finding it good but will try to use your breathing with the stretch class, every bit seems to help.
    Thanks for all ideas.

    • Michelle Kenway says:

      My pleasure Merran, yes the breathing should help you to relax and stretch well – and yes writing this article reminded me to breathe with my diaphragm too, as you say every bit helps!

  6. I look forward for the emails i find the exersizes realey help

  7. Hi Michelle, great information, I always look forward to your articles. In the event of having severe bronchitis plus asthma where coughing is constant when doing normal chest breathing (resulting in incontinence) – would diaphragm breathing assist in alleviating coughing? i.e would it mean that if one learnt to diaphragm breath really well, would it result in bypassing using the lungs excessively, or are the lungs still predominantly recruited while diaphragm breathing?

    • Michelle Kenway says:

      Hi Wendy
      I am really glad you have mentioned this – chronic chest problems with coughing are such a huge problem for women when it comes to the pelvic floor. In answer to your question, no diaphragmatic breathing won’t bypass the lungs, it will actually make the lungs inflate more as the diaphragm moves down into the abdomen. This type of breathing is a technique Physiotherapists teach to assist patients with decreased ventilation to the lungs ie when the lungs aren’t filling up well e.g. with bronchitis, lung collapse or pneumonia. This is a different problem to that experienced with asthma however diaphragmatic breathing is often included in a range of breathing exercises for asthmatics. Diaphragmatic breathing it increases the air entry to the air sacs or alveoli at the base of the lungs and encourages them to open up. Sometimes with the first few breaths it can make you cough a little so if you do choose to try it, do so when well and best to work into it gradually with the first few breaths in and fill the lungs progressively. I would suggest seeing a chest physio to help learn specific breathing exercises for asthma as there are a number of beneficial techniques that can be learned for chest clearance and breathing during asthma attack.

      The big thing in terms of the pelvic floor with chronic bronchitis/asthma, is the impact of the cough (as well as the effect of fatigue on the pelvic floor muscles when you are unwell). Wendy do you try to use ‘The Knack’ to help manage your coughing – this is currently the best immediate technique to use before and during cough – it involves a precontraction of the pelvic floor before cough, and trying to maintain this contraction during coughing which is not easy in a coughing fit.This means practicing your short strong brisk pelvic floor lifts and lowers as well as your long pelvic floor muscle contractions as well.

      Hope this helps you a little Wendy

  8. Ruth Smith says:

    Hi Michele – very informative and useful information – thank you very much.
    Trust you are keeping well.

  9. A very informative answer. Thanks so much Michelle.

  10. Hi michelle,I have been trying the deep breathing , inhaling slowly through the nose ,but exhaling through the mouth very fast, and I am finding my lower rib cage very sore, almost tender,…..could this be from blowing the air out to fast? Carolyn

    • Michelle Kenway says:

      Hi Carolyn

      Yes absolutely – with diaphragmatic breathing the lungs should be allowed to passively empty so that the air just naturally exits the lungs. By blowing out the air fast you are using respiratory muscles that need not be used with passive exhale. The correct idea is to use your muscles to expand your rib cage and inflate your lungs (so this does require your muscular effort) however exhale should be passive so that the lungs deflate slowly as the rib cage recoils back to resting position.

      Hope this clarifies this technique for you Carolyn

      • Hi Michelle, Thank you so much for the explanation, it does clarify the technique for me ……I will try again, with a much better understaning of what I’m supposed to be doing! Carolyn

        • Michelle Kenway says:

          Great Carolyn, just let me know if you have any further problems at all with this breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is such a useful technique to know so it’s worth taking the time to get it right. It should feel comfortable although if you are accustomed to upper chest breathing you may feel a little short of breath when starting out with the technique so it can take a little time to perfect. Michelle

  11. valerie Bastien says:

    Excellent step-by-steps instructions. I use it when teaching singing :)


    • Michelle Kenway says:

      That’s great Val, thanks for letting me know! Interesting, I occasionally receive emails form singers with pelvic floor problems and I wonder if it’s related to the diaphragm and associated downward pressure in singers when inhaling deeply where the pelvic floor may weaken if susceptible…

      Many thanks for your feedback

  12. Hi Michelle, your website is great! I also understood what is meant by diaphragmatic breathing. I’m living in Europe and having some sessions with a physiotherapist who makes me use a kind of whistle to breath (exhale) she says this exercise strengthens the abdominal muscles and the pelvic floor. I have the feeling that nothing happens. It’s a French method called Winner Flow, I am a little skeptical. I prefer Kegel exercises.

  13. Hi Michelle! Thanks for the great article. I am trying to breathe more mindfully and also build up my core strength.
    What confuses me though is how to keep good tightened abdominal posture and also breathe freely and deep from the diaphragm at the same time. Is this in opposition to each other? Or is there a balance between? Any tips how to visualize tight abs and deep breathing postures at the same time?

    • Michelle Kenway Physiotherapist says:

      Hi Rebecca

      This is a good question and I think it highlights the issues with keeping the abdominal posture tightened all the time.

      The abdominal postural muscles are just that; postural muscles in that they work gently and continuously for long periods of time. This is how they should be trained with gentle not strong activation if this makes sense. When the deep abs are contracted with appropriate strength/intensity then breathing is natural too. I think of just a really gentle indraw of the inner deep abs surrounding the lower abdomen and breathing into the diaphragm with these deep muscles gently activated.

      I hope this helps Rebecca

  14. Hi Michelle. I am about to go into hospital this week for pelvic organ prolapse repair. Both anterior and posterior. I came across your website earlier this year and this thread today. Can I just clarify, when doing diaphragmatic breathing should I co tract my pelvic floor as I breath deeply in and the relax pelvic floor as I passively breath out? Many thanks for the work you do in sharing your knowledge. I am sure it will help my recovery and I have a much better understanding of what has happened to my body from your site and book.

    • Michelle Kenway Physiotherapist says:

      Hi Yvette

      Re pelvic floor & breathing – no need to contract your pelvic floor unless you are doing pelvic floor exercises. I think sometimes women get the message that they need to brace their pelvic floor muscles all the time in which case they run the risk of over bracing. When exercising your pelvic floor then breathing should be normal regardless of whether you are contracting or relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. It’s worth mentioning that your surgeon will probably have guidelines for when to recommence pelvic floor exercises post op and its important to follow these guidelines too.

      All the best for your recovery

      • Thank you Michelle, I am so hopeful this will work, surgery and exercising. The bearing down feeling has become really distracting and I am hoping it is resolved. Trying to put things in place for the enforced rest is tricky isn’t it!