Control Your Abs!!!!
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
How do you activate your core? What is your core?
The core is a common term that is used in the fitness and therapeutic industries. I am not against this term and have used it many times myself. The problem is there is no standard definition in the fitness or medical field for what your core is. This is a big problem because if I tell you to activate and strengthen your core, what am I even asking you to do? Who knows. Most people interpret it as a fancy way to talk about the abdominals, but if I wanted you just to use your abs why wouldn’t I just say it? Everyone would know exactly what I was asking for. The reason we use core is because it means that your are going to activate or strengthen more muscles than JUST your abs.
One way technique I like to use to activate "the core" is BRACING. This is another fancy way to talk about using your abdominals, but includes all abdominals muscles, pelvic floor, diaphragm, and some of the muscles of your back as well. It’s important to understand first that many of your abdominal muscles wrap around your midsection and go all the way to your back (much like a corset or a weight belt). This would be the transverse abdominals and the internal obliques. An argument can be made for the external obliques also wrapping around to your back due to its attachments to the serratus anterior and lats. The most common abdominal muscle, rectus abdominis, otherwise known as the 6 pack muscle, is only an anterior muscle.
The big non-sciencey takeaway here is that your abdominals are not just on the front side of your body but work in a 360 degree fashion around the entire spine.
Why does that matter? This matters because most of us only focus on feeling our abdominals work or tighten on the front side. More than likely, this means you're only working your rectus abdominis and maybe some of the anterior (front) fibers of your other muscles. This creates an imbalance in one of our most important stabilization systems. If we only work the front side, we will have energy leaks during our movements and more chances for injury since we are not truly stable. If you don’t care about that, then realize that our sides or love handles could be made worse by not having the muscles on the sides and back working. This means that fat could be getting stored there from inactivity and those muscles are creating enough tension having a saggy look.
Now that you are interested in training these muscles the question is: how?
Enter Bracing. This abdominal contraction technique is used to activate all abdominal muscles all the way around your spine to create the most stability possible.
One way to picture it is if someone was going to punch you in the stomach, how would you brace for the hit. If your answer is suck in your gut like a bodybuilder in a show, then you would be on the floor in pain. If you think about creating tension by slightly tensing or pushing out your sides you will have a better chance to absorb the punch.
To create this tension place the sides of your hands between your ribcage and your hips like you are karate chopping your sides. Press into your sides then cough. You should feel your abdominal muscles push against your hands. Those are the muscles you are trying to activate. Sometimes in the beginning it helps to exhale forcefully to find the muscle contraction (if you make an aggressive SSSHHH SSSHHH sound it will be more noticeable). Try and keep the pressure into your hands while you take a few breaths without losing the tension from your stomach pressing into your hands. Then try to activate your abdominals without the exhale. Now you’re ready to try and apply this to your exercises and daily activities. Don't worry if this feels awkward or hard to do at first. With practice and repetition it will become 2nd nature.
Let’s create more stable spines and better looking stomachs!!!