Good abdominal function will brace the spine against forces from all directions. The perfect analogy is a large sailing ship. The mast of the ship is your spine and a stable ship has very strong guy wires which support the mast in every direction. No matter which way the wind blows the mast is upright and functional. Find an anatomical depiction of the body’s mid-section and you’ll see the same design: muscle fibers running in every direction. Healthy function is a lower spine that will not succumb to the forces of sports, daily activities, or unexpected accidents.
The brace is a great place to understand correct abdominal function. Here’s how:
- Stand up straight, chest tilted up.
- Act like you have to hold your bladder to prevent urination…this engages the pelvic floor.
- Lightly push your abdominals like you are trying to defacate (sorry for the analogy, it’s really the most accurate description).
- You should now feel solid and braced in the mid-section. There is no need or benefit to over-doing the brace…a little goes a long way.
At first you want to simply practice the brace while standing or sitting. Holding it for 10-20 seconds a few times per day is good. Then move on to bracing while walking, climbing stairs, etc. It’s okay to do this consciously. Next try some push-ups: do 5 without bracing and then try 5 while bracing…the braced push-ups should feel more crisp and easier. If not, go back to the basic brace and start over.
At this point you’re on the way to performing all kinds of exercises while working the abdominals in a proper fashion the entire time. Try lunges, deadlifts, and shoulder presses with the brace. Eventually, the brace will be sub-conscious and reflexive (i.e., you have the capacity to neutralize a harmful external force without thinking about it). You can apply the brace to anything including targeted ab exercises like the plank. The ultimate test of abdominal function is doing a hard cardio interval (e.g. a 400-meter sprint) and then being able to brace while taking huge deep breaths3. If you can “breathe through the shield” of the brace then you’re good. Keep in mind that a good program done correctly means you need very little extra “core training.” You save time, function better, get stronger, and have a healthier back…not a bad deal.
The final installment of this series will describe 5 excellent “core” exercises that can do a world of good.
By: Max Prokopy
Disclaimer: No attempt has been made to promote one particular fitness gym or performer. No financial benefit is associated with any of the above recommendations.
Photo from: http://inmotion2.blogspot.com
3. Grenier SG, McGill SM. When exposed to challenged ventilation, those with a history of LBP increase spine stability relatively more than healthy individuals. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2008 Nov;23(9):1105-11.