By Carrie Mussbacher, CAT(C), BPE, CSEP-CPT, PPFS,
Level 2 Hypopressives Instructor
“Engage your core, tighten your core, pull your belly button in.” Do these cues sound familiar? There are so many cues for core during fitness and rehab that you’ve probably heard. However, if we take a better look at the function of some of our core muscles, their role isn’t always about voluntary control, or for staying contracted the whole time. This means that the muscles work and support us while we move, exercise, even cough and sneeze! If we try to always voluntarily contract them, how do they learn to work when we’re not thinking about it? For example, if you are running, or you are a football player running a route, a basketball player performing a lay up, a golfer teeing off, or an Olympic lifter performing a snatch, you likely are not actively thinking about core engagement in those moments! So how can we better train our core? Hypopressives is an example of a way that trains these deep core muscles in their true function - which is the involuntary contraction and relaxation that I just mentioned. What this means is that making the deep core muscles stronger (like the pelvic floor with kegels, or transverse abdominis by drawing your belly button to your spine) doesn’t necessarily make them function better.
So what is hypopressives? It is a breathing and postural technique. It addresses the deepest layer of core muscles to function as a unit. When they function as a unit they provide you with more support, translating into less pressure on your pelvic floor, pressure on your abdomen, or strain and pressure on your lower back. Now you might be wondering why is that important? Because part of the job of these deep core muscles isn’t to produce force but stability. It is meant to manage pressure in the intra-abdominal space. When we can’t regulate the pressure through life activities or exercises, we begin to show symptoms. These symptoms could vary from a hernia (inguinal or umbilical), a disc herniation in your back, or pelvic floor dysfunction such as leaking or prolapse (the downward descent of the pelvic organs). None of these are ideal. None of these are symptoms you want to be dealing with whether you are trying to be active and healthy or if you are an athlete training for your sport.
Now the other question I get asked a lot is “can I still do ab exercises?” My answer is yes! Depending on individual goals, symptoms, or as a prevention perspective, hypopressives can be a great tool used on a weekly or daily basis They can be a great warm up or cool down before a lifting session or before you head out the door on a run. Hypopressives become a part of a maintenance program. It helps you develop breath strategies during your exercises as well, so it isn’t about stopping other exercises necessarily, but rather complimenting what you are already doing, or what you want to be able to do.
"I suffered in silence from urinary incontinence after the birth of my 4 children (39 years ago). I took up running at the age of 44 which presented a huge challenge as my symptoms worsened, but I didn't want to give up on the idea of being active. I kegeled myself to death, every morning and night but it never improved. I first heard of hypopressives 3 years ago and felt slightly skeptical but yet saw a glimmer of hope. I began working with Carrie who was patient, empathetic and always encouraging. Now at the age of 65, I am consistent with practicing hypopressives and it has improved my bladder control exponentially. Hypopressives have given me the ability to continue to be an active senior and actually improve my symptoms of urinary incontinence."