Exercises to Breathe Better: Strengthening Your Diaphragm and Abdominal Muscles

You take thousands of breaths every day without thinking about it. Breathing, unless you focus on it, is automatic. However, because breathing is automatic, you probably don't realize how much actually goes into each breath.

Use a balloon to help strengthen your breathing muscles. (Image: JGI/Jamie Grill/Tetra images/GettyImages)

Your Breathing Muscles

When you breathe in, your diaphragm — an umbrella of muscle under your lungs — contracts and flattens out. When your diaphragm flattens, it allows your lungs to expand, creating extra room. Air rushes in through your nose or mouth to fill that empty space. To breathe out, you use your abs, back muscles, the muscles of your ribs and even your neck muscles.

Shallow Breathing Problems

Factors such as consistent stress, smoking and lung problems and injuries can cause shallow breathing, meaning you inhale and exhale less air. This is very common among people who deal with a lot of stress, but it's also common in people who have trouble getting oxygen, such as smokers or those who suffer from lung disease.

When you are taking more shallow, frequent breaths, it means that you are not fully using your diaphragm to breathe in or ab muscles to breathe out. In order to strengthen your breathing muscles, you must push them to the max by breathing fully in and out.

According to the American Lung Association, regular breathing exercises can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.

Blow Up a Balloon

A balloon is a great party decorations and an excellent tool for strengthening the diaphragm and abs. The balloon resists your exhale, forcing you to really blow out hard.

  • Lie on the floor on your back, bend your knees and put your feet up on a bench, couch or chair. Hold the balloon in one hand and rest the other arm on the ground next to you. Lift your butt 2 inches off the ground by pushing your heels into the bench, couch or chair.
  • Take a big breath in through your nose and blow out through your mouth into the balloon. When you have nothing left, pause. Wait five seconds before you breathe in.
  • When you breathe in, put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathe in through your nose. Breathe in as much air as you can; then blow it out forcefully into the balloon until you have absolutely no air left in your lungs; then pause.
  • Keep repeating this cycle until the balloon is full. Then let the air out of the balloon and try again. Blow the balloon up five times.

Tip

When you exhale, try to relax your shoulders and neck. This places most of the strain on your abs.

All-Fours Breathing

The all-fours breathing exercise not only promotes diaphragmatic breathing, but it's easy enough for a child to do properly:

  • Get into an all-fours position on the ground (on your hands and knees). Gently round your back like you are doing the "cat" pose in yoga. Make sure that your shoulders are over your hands and your hips are over your knees.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe out, round your back even further and tuck your chin toward your chest. Keep rounding as you blow all of the air out of the lungs. Pause at the end of your exhale for five seconds, holding the rounded position. Then, breathe in through your nose.
  • When your lungs are full of air, breathe out again as hard as you can, rounding your back even more. Repeat this cycle five times; then take a break.
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