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Core

mattmetzgar
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Core
Esther,

A recent article in the New York Times said that pulling in towards the belly button may weaken the core: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/21/magazine/21FOB-physed-t.html

I was wondering how the inner corset fits in with this.  Here's one quote from the article:

"Think of the spine as a fishing rod supported by muscular guy wires. If all of the wires are tensed equally, the rod stays straight. "If you pull the wires closer to the spine, "McGill says, as you do when you pull in your stomach while trying to isolate the transversus abdominis, “what happens?” The rod buckles. So, too, he said, can your spine if you overly focus on the deep abdominal muscles. “In research at our lab,” he went on to say, “the amount of load that the spine can bear without injury was greatly reduced when subjects pulled in their belly buttons” during crunches and other exercises."
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There is a lot to dissect in this article and in people's misconceptions about which muscles they should engage and what actions cause those muscles to engage.

1. Pulling in the belly button usually engages not just transversus, but also rectus abdominis and will destabilize the spine. I like to teach exercises to strengthen the obliques (these are the main ones to prevent the spine from being pulled out of whack) by first exhaling thoroughly and then pressing the back of the ribcage against the floor (if you're lying down) or just backwards if you are upright, all the while taking care not to tuck the pelvis. This is a very different action from pressing the belly button backwards to the spine or doing a "clamshell" contraction into the belly button. To get more challenge, I teach all sorts of actions with the arms and legs that make it harder for the obliques to do the work of maintaining the shape of the torso (see the ab section in the Exercise appendix of 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back).

2. To strengthen the inner corset I teach to just do the inner corset in the face of stress like load bearing, vibration, impact, etc.
In general, you are safest doing isometric exercises (plank, side plank, "bird dog," etc), exercises that maintain the torso's shape (pushups) or exercises that include measured distortion of the spine with the inner corset in place (e.g. samba with the inner corset in place). I am glad sit-ups are out of vogue and am looking forward to crunches going out of vogue too. They don't follow what I think of as the Hippocratic Oath of Exercise - do no harm. People end up strengthening the wrong muscle and damaging their cervical and lumbar discs in the process.
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