Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ab Wars

There is a battle going on. In the blue corner we have abdominal hollowing and coming from the red corner we have abdominal bracing. Abdominal hollowing is generally defined as where you pull your belly button to your spine and "suck in those abs man."

Abdominal bracing is gnerally defined as preparing like you are about ready to take a punch in the gut. Each side has its proponents and recently it seems like abdominal bracing is taking an early lead.

Research done by Grenier, SG from Dr. McGill's (big name biomechanics/spine researcher dude) lab recently published a study looking at this debate even! (1).

But wait, what is this, a third competitor has entered the ring! Oh no, more confusion!

I think that NEITHER of these methods are optimal and/or practical. "Oh no honey, I bent down to pick of fee fee the cat and forgot to suck in my abs and I blew my back." Pleeeze. I know people can have back issues by picking up pencils, but I can gaurantee most of them had some pretty large compensations for some time.

The crazy idea that I picked up at the Z Health R Phase training is to axially lengthen your spine. Imagine someone set a book on top of your head and you are lengthening up against it and pressing your heals into the ground. Keep a nice neutral spine with your head forward (don't tilt your chin up).

By axially lengthening (tall neutral spine) your body is so smart you will AUTOMATICALLY fire ALL your stabilizing muscles. This is much stronger (although it will not "feel" that way) than either ab practice in my opinion.

Demo time. Try this

Ok, do not do the cannonball drill at home!

Try this instead
Stand normal, close your eyes, have a buddy push you in various directions as you try to resist him/her.
Now stand tall, axially lengthen, close your eyes and stay tall (in Z Heath it is also referred to as dynamic postural alignment) and repeat.

What you will find is that in the tall spine case you are much more stable since your body is firing ALL its stabilizing muscles.

Tall spine (dynamic postural alignment) allows you to stay in various positions withOUT tension AND it is more (at minimium as effective) as any other ab method in my book. Ok, so it is a short, small book, but nonetheless.

Words to the wise
This takes some practice, just like everything else and you need to get your reps in. Start in a neutral position, and then just do various body weight partial lunges. Once you lunge, re-lengthen. If you can re-lengthen, that means you were not in a tall spine. Practice this with just body weight first and when you add weight, make sure you stay in a tall spine.

After some time, you will find that you will almost automatically lengthen before you pick up anything heavy. Makes more sense that this should be more of a reflex action then something you need to think about each time you pick up something heavy!

In another study done by Krajcarski, SR et al. (2)states "pre-activation of trunk extensor muscles can serve to reduce the flexion displacements caused by rapid loading. The abdominal oblique muscles, especially external oblique, will rapidly increase their activation levels in response to rapid loading. ....resulting in lower initial trunk stiffness and spine compression force"

Hmm, sounds good to me. The faster you can fire the correct muscles to oppose an external force the better off you are. Sign me up!

If you live in Minnesota and want to learn this and other "cool stuff" click here


1) Grenier, SG, McGill, SM Quantification of lumbar stability by using 2 different abdominal activation strategies. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007