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Exercises That Strengthen the Diaphragm & Abdominal Muscles to Help in the Breathing Process

author image Kristi Stephens
Kristi Stephens has been writing professionally since 2010. She holds certifications in athletic training, massage therapy, personal training and has a physical-education degree with concentrations in coaching and family life/human sexuality. Stephens is on the kinesiology faculty at a local community college and is employed as an athletic trainer/patient relations coordinator for a sports medicine physical therapy clinic.
Exercises That Strengthen the Diaphragm & Abdominal Muscles to Help in the Breathing Process
You can improve your breathing with exercise. Photo Credit pilates-breathing stretching image by Leticia Wilson from Fotolia.com


Breathing is an automatic function of the body, but the effects of aging, shallow breathing and disease may negatively effect your ability to get enough oxygen to your body. According to the University of Missouri- Kansas City, "a 20 percent reduction in oxygen blood levels may be caused by the aging process and normal breathing habits. Poor breathing robs energy and negatively affects mental alertness." Exercise is an effective way to improve your breathing.

Abdominal/Diaphragm Breathing

Train your abdominal muscles so that you can breathe deeply, rather than take shallow chest breaths. Lying on your back with your knees bent, place your palms at the bottom of your rib cage. Take a breath in through your nose, allowing your diaphragm to expand your stomach, keeping your chest as still as you can. Feel your stomach rise beneath your hands. Exhale through your mouth and repeat. Do this exercise while sitting up when the lying exercise becomes easy.

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Complete Breathing Exercise

This exercise will allow you to practice taking in as much air as you can. Begin with the diaphragm/abdominal breathing exercise. Once your abdomen is full of air, allow your chest to expand as much as possible. Hold your breath as long as your are comfortable without becoming lightheaded, then release.

Resistance Training

Creating a resistance through any movement increases the difficulty and therefore your strength. Once you are able to properly perform the above exercises, place a light weight on your upper abdomen, creating some resistance. Sandbags are used in yoga for this purpose.

General Breathing Techniques

Increase your breathing effectiveness to provide an overall benefit to your strengthening efforts. The bellows technique is a quick puff-type breathing in and out through the nose. Do this while sitting down, but stop if you get lightheaded as you may promote hyperventilation. The University of Missouri-Kansas recommends the Chinese technique where three short breaths are taken through the nose, without exhaling. With each inhalation your arms raise, and then are lowered to your sides with exhalation. This exercise should also be performed sitting down. Another breathing control and strengthening exercise involves taking a deep breath and humming for as long as you can with exhalation, squeezing every ounce of breath out.

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