The Everyday Overlooked Abdominal Workout - Posture!
by Susan Arruda - 6 Time Figure/Fitness Champion
Abdominals are at the 'core' of it all and as a result, involved in everything we do. Refer to the article, The Deep Truth About Abs which discusses the four different abdominal layers. Strong abdominals are necessary for maintaining good alignment and having a strong healthy back. Did you know that the first muscle to fire when almost any limb movement occurs (according to Australian research) is the deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis (TVA/aka TA) and that the muscles of the TVA are connected to the lower back? My TnT Ab DVD, Core Galore - Fit Foundations, discusses this more in depth as well as provides you with three effective workouts to develop and strengthen your abs to become stronger stabilizers and challenges all the muscles of the core. I'm very passionate about this as I am keenly aware of the importance of solid foundational building principles for long term health and injury prevention.
Keeping good posture is a crucial and overlooked component of overall good health and the longterm consequences of poor posture runs a very lengthy list; from weak muscles, tight and stiffness that may be highly predominant upon waking, muscular imbalances, leg pain with numbness, tingling and weakness, breathing problems, spinal dysfunction, joint and disc degeneration, decreased quality of life, and more! Yes, somethingso seemingly simple and insignificant as posture can really amount to big trouble long term. Some of the more serious health problems people experience can very well be the simple result of poor posture and the effects of erosion on the body over time, but we're often in search of a more complex reason. In observing adults and working with students ranging from 11-14 yrs. old has brought fourth a strong awareness on the mass proportion of poor posture as an epidemic and the lack of knowledge surrounding it.
The literal meaning of posture means to put or place. Keeping our body position in the most favourable anatomical position to avoid undue stress and muscle imbalances is crucial for long term health, not to mention, it's aesthetically more appealing and yes, looking good in addition to feeling good, go hand in hand. Engaging the abdominals is required to keep proper upright alignment and more specifically, learning to recruit and engage the deep transverse abdominals.
The TVA/TA works as stabilizers to support our back and pelvis and provide us with good torso alignment. The transversus abdominis is involved in every single movement we perform; it's the first muscle to fire when almost any limb movement occurs. When we are not in the practice of actively engaging our abdominals with the abdominal draw in (aka, abdominal brace, abdominal hallowing) while maintaining a neutral spine, it puts extra strain on our lower back and contributes to poor posture. We need to actively practice this isometric abdominal contraction throughout your day by consciously pulling your navel into your spine and holding this contraction for 20-60 seconds intermittently throughout your day. Make sure you don't raise your rib cage as that engages other muscles other than the TVA. This draw in or vacuum exercise becomes easier with consistent practice and ultimately, you want to do this co-contraction with every exercise. It also automatically sets you up for having better posture.
Sitting in your car is an ideal time to capitalize on putting this into practice. You want to strive to maintain natural alignment of all three curves in your spine (cervical, thoracic, lumbar). Sit as upright as possible, press your head back against your car headrest to counter the common protruding chin, have your butt all the way to the back of the seat while keeping your shoulders down and back and tighten and draw in the abs. In maintaining the natural curve of the spine, there will be a curve at the neck and lower back. Good standing posture requires engaging the deep TVA muscle (this supports and stabilizes the spine) along with alignment and positioning of the pelvis. Cue an imaginary line that aligns the shoulders over hips, and knee to ankle alignment. Standing for prolonged periods can produce fatigue and put undue strain on the low back. To alleviate this stress, raise one foot up onto a platform (the very reason for a bar stool) which automatically shifts the pelvis forward to reduce this strain and/or shift your pelvis forward by contracting your glutes and resetting your posture. Do a visual posture check as well as perform the draw in along with scapular retraction (press shoulders down and squeeze shoulder blades together to counter stooping and rounded shoulders) to reset your alignment. Having strong, more defined abs are a result of training them consistently (30% training, 70% diet) as well as eating right. This will not only yield a sleeker appearance, but will provide you with a solid strong core and healthier, better looking posture.
Get in the habit of training your abs around the clock; you'll be amazed at the results!