HEY! WHERE'S YOUR INTERNAL WEIGHT BELT?
Think of your body as an algebraic equation. Both sides must equal each other to solve the problem. Unfortunately our bodies are not as balanced as a mathematical equation. When the human body is out of balance and we cannot stabilize, our function is compromised. However, creating awareness and learning how to train the deep abdominal musculature will produce equal strength gains as well as coordinated motor control.
For example a car driven with its wheels out of alignment will have worn tires lose speed; have decreased fuel efficiency and compromised handling.
We need to focus our attention on developing inter-segmental strength and stability-not superficial strength. Other sports focus on working the outer muscles for explosive power. Remember this: When you can not maintain inter-segmental support you start bringing in more muscles, because you have more joints moving. When you have more joints moving, you start to de-emphasize the goal. What’s moving the joints? Muscles. What are muscles? Internal forces and this is really important because your body’s job is to make life easy. When the body experiences a load, it is trying to dissipate the load as best it can. How can there be smooth coordinated joint motion if every muscle and joint is trying to fire and stabilize?
There is a muscular support system, and the conductor of this support system is called the Transverse abdominis that is the inner layer of your abdomen region. Well you really better start to love this muscle. The transverse abdominis is made up of muscle fibers that run horizontally around the abdomen. It functions like a girdle, think of it as your internal weight belt or a girdle that goes all the way around and attaches to strong connective tissue. When you properly contract/train the deep abdominal muscles they squeeze your viscera (an envelope that holds your organs) up into the diaphragm and down into the pelvis basin creating a column of support or cylinder that is much greater than the spine itself.
Please do not confuse this with the rectus abdominus that we train by performing crunches. The transverse has a totally different control system and function. Ultrasound imaging shows it is a totally different mechanism. The transverse abdominis does not expand a certain number of joints, or move a joint like the outer muscles do, it stabilizes them.
They are deep inter-segmental muscles that stabilize from a segmental level creating a column of support much greater than the spine itself. These muscles are the band members they sit and harmonize close to the spine waiting for direction from the conductor “THE TRANSVERSE ABDOMINIS”.
Example: You have a pebble and a puddle you drop the pebble into the core (center) of the puddle the rings travel to the outside.
Movements of the extremities (our arms and legs) originate in and emanate outward from our core just like the rings in the puddle. Studies on motor control and muscle recruitment patterns show that muscles close to the spine (the band members, and the transverse (conductor), and all the tiny muscles that connect from vertebrae to vertebrae, are activated first before any arm or leg muscles for stabilization. This provides a working foundation to exert force off of. However if there is no connection to the transverse or a “sleepy mechanism” more joints will move to help take force loads off the spine. Those same joints that would be stabilizing and accepting weight transfer are now moving to help the body decrease force loads on the spine while trying to balance you at the same time. The entire body has created muscular imbalances, disproportionate forces and faulty movement patterns.
Our arms and legs are just extensions of our core. When we learn how to train and activate the deep abdominal musculature, with the proper draw in maneuver, we create segmental support in our lumbar area as we mobilize. This will enhance your core strength and stability and drastically reduce the risk factors associated with instability of the spine. You will perform the proper path of motion because you have fewer joints moving trying to stabilize the spine as the body moves through the rotational path.
Analogy #1: How the transverse works.
Take your golf club it is a representation of your spine. Now you train the deep abdominal stabilizing mechanism. Now take a piece of paper and wrap it around the shaft. The paper represents the working musculature (the transverse abdominis and all the muscles that connect block to block rather than expand a certain number of joints). Lets say your dealing with a force, if the transverse is a ‘sleepy muscle” and not working properly, the body will try to get out of work by calling upon other muscles to help maintain stability. When this muscle is activated/ trained properly, the entire system will stay in it’s most efficient position” the proper form will take place.”
Analogy: #2 The flag pole
Coming up from the ground you have a segmented flag pole (your spine) a moveable joint at each and every level. Around this flagpole are guy wires (four) the superficial muscles of our midsection, rectus abdominis, lower back muscles, and on each side are the internal and external obliques. It does not matter how strong these outer muscles (guy wires) are if the flagpole does not have a strong link and support mechanism like the transverse abdominis. The entire muscular and skeletal systems will breakdown and lose stability.
A: For years we have been training to strengthen our ability to stabilize. However research has proven sit-ups or crunches do not enhance our ability to stabilize or maintain a correct posture. Another fact is performing sit-ups is not the best movement for your posture, it actually makes it worse. For the players who can win a crunch championship try this test… sit in perfect posture (tall, sternum high) the test is to sit without the ribcage or sternum dropping for more then 15 minutes…I bet a trip to Augusta you crumble within that time! Point, “What did sit-ups do for your ability to stabilize the spine?”
We have one support system running around our midsection. We also have a very deep link and support system of muscles that attach block to block along the spinal column. Now ask yourself, what this has to do with the outer muscles we train in the gym by performing sit-ups or low back exercises? The truth is we have been using the same exercises for all sports regardless of our goals. This negativity has trickled into the gyms and right in the hands of the uneducated trainer.
For the last several years researchers are now performing evaluations and ultra sound imaging tests on the deepest intersegmental muscles in our midsection. They have found these muscles give you stability during weight transfer. These muscles give you support from an intersegmental level, not superficial support like the outer muscles. (The ones you see in a mirror) If you can picture your spine, think of the entire vertebra like blocks sitting on top of one another. These blocks have a support mechanism that creates a cylinder stronger than the spine itself. The muscle responsible for this support is called the Transverse abdominis. Please get to love this muscle; more importantly love its function. This is the deepest layer of your abdominal wall (stomach region) it functions like a girdle. Think of it as your internal weight belt or a corset. It gets its name from the direction it runs, on a transverse plane and being a part of the abdominal family. The transverse, your internal weight belt, comes all the way around your body, as if you were to shrink-wrap your waistline. Now you will have a better understanding on how extremity beneficial this highly complex musculature is to your athletic ability.
Activation/ training of this muscle are different than the outer muscles around your waist/abdominal area. For year’s people have told you to perform sit-ups or crunches to help you strengthen your ability to better your posture, low back and stability. If this were true you would be able to sit tall in perfect posture for 10 to 15 minutes without your back slouching or your rib cage dropping. If it feels more comfortable with your back rounded when you sit this is a great indication you need to learn this exercise when training you cannot break the body into segments. The body does not work in segments. Think about this during your workout. Can you isolate the bicep during a curl? (Work nothing more then the bicep? No you can not! However you can isolate a joint region to put more force in the bicep region. When one muscle is firing does it call open the next in line? If this were so we would look like something from an old silent movie. Our movements would be jerky and they would not be fluid.
Every muscle is working in harmony with the other at the same time like a string quartet. The conductor to this great symphony is like the transverse to the body’s ability to stabilize. Fact… 80% of all body builders who fix themselves to a machine tested and had a sleepy transverse muscle. The muscle responsible for stabilization was not working. Guys, ladies, add some function to your life and incorporate some free motion movements! Remember you can’t fire cannon from a canoe.
Dave Parise C.P.T.
About the author:
Dave Parise is a recognized leader in the fitness industry. On the cutting edge of exercise today, Mr. Parise has been noted as one of the “Top 15 Trainers” in the United States and across Canada by the Association for Fitness Professionals, I.D.E.A.
Parise has 20 years of experience in Human Performance and Exercise Science. His creative culinary innovations with organic whole foods have been rated “very delicious” by top chefs in New York. Dave was born and raised in Hamden CT.
Dave Parise C.P.T.,