The Almighty Diaphragm Pt. 2


*Photo Credit: Primal – through ART® Certification*


I hope you enjoyed Pt. 1 about the Diaphragm.  If you need a refresher, or haven’t read it yet, check it out here!

We touched on the respiratory function of the Diaphragm in Pt. 1, so hopefully you’ve been working on your breathing.  It is difficult to re-program yourself, but trust me it will pay off.  There are little guarantees in life, but if your diaphragm is your primary breathing muscle, I guarantee you will feel, live, move and function better!  You will have less back, neck and shoulder tension, less headaches/migraines and less pain.  As an added bonus your performance and strength will increase too!

When your diaphragm is functioning properly, so will your core.  Did you catch that!? Your core WON’T function properly without its foundation, ie diaphragm.  So do all if the crunches(please don’t, unless you like that nagging low back pain.  Topic for another day, I digress), trunk twists, flutter kicks, planks and hundreds of other “core” strengthening exercises you want.  But, until you train your diaphragm to get it to function properly, you’ll be building a house on an unstable foundation.  Which, will eventually lead to an injury.

*Speaking of injury, did you know that endurance is a greater predictor for injury?  This study found an increase in diaphragm fatigue[less and/or lack of endurance] in individuals with recurrent lower back pain.*

Ready to learn how to train it?  Let’s now discuss the postural function of the Diaphragm.

As we learned in Pt. 1 the diaphragm sits under the rib cage and is pivotal in maintaining & generating the intraabdominal pressure(IAP) necessary to creating stability in our spine.  When IAP is maintained forces can be transferred through the core and into the extremities(arms/legs).  This will prevent any unnecessary stress to your body, especially your lower back.  Lower back pain is one of the most common conditions in the country as 80% of the population will experience it in their lifetime.  With proper IAP you may even be able to move without pain or feel more flexibile.  Dr. Stuart McGill, a world renowned researcher on the lower back, proclaims “proximal stiffness enhances distal mobility and athleticism” in his research, textbooks & workshops.  To learn more about him, check out his website.

Let’s dive into some common examples of a loss of the diaphragm’s postural function, ie dysfunction.

One sign of dysfunction is a flared anterior rib cage. Have you ever noticed someone’s rib cage pop out when they raise there arms overhead or lay down on their back?  This is usually coupled with an arch or sway in their lower back.

Another sign of dysfunction is flaring of the rib cage when you twist your trunk.  This is usually associated with limited thoracic spine(midback) extension and rotation.

Lastly, is when your side sags towards the floor when you are lying on your side or performing a side plank.  This is without a doubt do to poor lateral excursion of the Diaphragm couple with a lack of gluteal muscle recruitment or strength.

If either of these scenarios are you, don’t worry, I got you covered.  First off always start with the breathing exercise discussed in Pt. 1(If you need a progression on that, don’t hesitate to contact me!)

Moving forward we have to get you to feel the diaphragm contract, ie abdominal brace, for postural stability(IAP). Here is how you do it.

  1. Place your thumbs underneath your rib cage in your lower back, just to the outside of the large muscles.
  2. Let your finger tips wrap around your sides towards the front.
  3. Contract your diaphragm by pushing into your thumbs, outward into your fingers and your belly button away from your spine.  No hollowing or sucking in.
  4. You should also feel your rib cage draw down, like with the breathing exercise.
  5. If you aren’t feeling this, then imagine you have a belt around your mid-section, now push outward into it.  Doing this in front of a mirror can help, especially of you’re a visual learner.

Once you have that down, take it to Jedi status and hold the abdominal brace while you breath with your diaphragm. Now we are training your core! *By the way this is a progression to the Pt. 1 exercise, but there are more!*

So now that we have the ability to feel the diaphragm contract via the abdominal brace, let’s train it.  To train we will be holding a 10-15% contraction of the diaphragm by holding a brace during these dynamic stretches to work on mobility and exercises to work on stability.

Stretching/Mobility considerations:

  • 10-15% contraction/brace
  • Lunge stance, hips square, feet forward, arms up
  • Drive forward with back leg to extend hip
  • Perform 10 reps each variation, on both sides, in order demonstrated
  • Monitor rib cage positioning

  • 10-15% contraction/brace
  • Prop up on elbow in side plank posture
  • Bottom leg: hip at 45-90°, knee bent slightly
  • Top leg: hip extended & knee bent in order to feel a stretch in the quads
  • Press bottom knee into floor
  • Rotate top arm back towards wall & up reach towards ceiling
  • Turn head with arm motion & look toward fingertips
  • Perform 10-15 reps each side as demonstrated


Exercise/Stability considerations:

  • 10-15% contraction/brace
  • Should feel lower back press into floor slightly
  • Have both arms up at shoulder height
  • Legs up, knees bent at 90°
  • Extend opposite arm & leg without arching your lower back off of the floor
  • Return to starting position and repeat with opposite arm & leg
  • Perform 10 reps each side as demonstrated


  • 10-15% contraction/brace
  • Prop up on elbow in side plank posture
  • Place top hand on side to feel the lateral contraction
  • Bottom leg: hip at 45-90°, knee bent slightly
  • Top leg: hip extended & knee bent in order to feel a stretch in the quads
  • Press bottom knee into floor & lift trunk up
  • Perform 10 reps each side, holding for 5 secs as demonstrated

Generally speaking, I would perform 2-3 sets/day of each the stretches and exercises 4-5x/week when you are first trying to get comfortable with them.  Once you are comfortable, I would perform them 2-3x/week and definitely add the dynamic stretches into your warm-up prior to activity. These may look simple and easy, but trust me they can be challenging.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Two parts down and one to go.  Stay tuned for Pt. 3 later this month.  I’ve given you some work to do in the meantime, enjoy!

Yours in health,

Dr. G