Friday, February 20, 2009

The Draw in Maneuver vs. The Abdominal Brace

The draw-in maneuver (hollowing) is commonly taught as a technique to activate the abdominals in order to stabilize the spine. In reality, this not a very effective technique for achieving spinal stiffness for a few reasons.

First, drawing in the abdominal wall (belly button towards the spine) activates the transverse abdominis in isolation. In order to draw-in, the abdominals must be nearly inactive. Weakening of the abdominal muscles certainly cannot support stability for the spine. This is one of the reasons pilates is NOT the best choice for exercise.

Second, isolating any one abnominal muscle could never yield more stiffness than activating the entire abdominal wall. This is why "bracing" is a much better technique to enhance stability.

"Bracing" is achieved not by drawing in or pushing out but rather my a simple co-contraction of the abdominals. We will commonly cue, "brace the abs as if you were getting ready to get punched". With MMA guys, we need to be careful of this cueing because they may get into "fighting posture". Fighting posture is bad posture for exercise (hunch back).

Bracing also activates the extensor muscles which acts as a "natural" weightlifting belt to offer more support. Along with the "natural belt", the obliques and rectus abnominas offer stability as supporting "guys wires".

Stuart Mcgill has crushed more spines in his lab than anyone in the world. He has proven over and over again that drawing in the abs under significant load will result in buckling of the spine. I'm on Stu's side :-)