Monday, November 26, 2012


As one of the Gravity Training System (GTS) instructors at Duffy and Bracken Physical Therapy, one of the first questions I ask a client is whether there is a specific body part they would like to work on. One of the top answers is, "I want a flat tummy! Give me some abs". In response, I remind people abdominals already exist. They just need to be defined.
So how does one do that? First off, doing crunches all day will not work alone. Bulky abs under a layer of fat will be the end result. However, with a combination of aerobic exercises and resistance training, definition will become more evident. In addition, there stands one more element in regards to exercise that is a key component in getting maximum results during a workout; abdominal engagement.
Doubling as a physical therapy aide at the clinic, I find that patients have to learn how to properly engage their core. When the lower abdominals are incorrectly engaged during exercises that require flexion at the hip, it is common to compensate using another set of muscle called the hip flexor. The hip flexor is used to bring the thigh closer to the trunk and is primarily used during exercises such as running and leg lifts to stair climbing. So how do you distinguish between which ones you're using? It's not that you want to isolate the two completely, but you do want to focus on working the abdominals more with certain movements. The only way to do this is practice!
One way to practice is an exercise called transverse abdominis contraction (TAC) with marching. To do this, lie on your back and bend both knees. Keep feet about six inches apart with feet flat on the ground. Naturally, your lower back will have a slight curve away from the floor.
(Transverse Abdominis Contraction shown in the figure where dotted line is shown. Navel is drawn in towards spine and back is flattened)
The first step (TAC) is to engage your lower abs by tensing the muscle. Try drawing your lower abs towards your spine. You should be focusing on the muscles you feel engage when you cough or laugh. Do not hold your breath! This should make your lower back press towards the floor, providing a protective mechanism for your back. The next step is "marching". Slowly, lift one leg at a time bringing the knee towards your trunk, maintaining the 90-degree angle in the knee. Return leg to starting position and switch legs.

If performed correctly your back will stay pressed down and your lower abdominal should be overpowering your hip flexors. If the back begins to arch away from the floor, chances are your hip flexors are overpowering your abs. This can cause stress in the back.
Practicing transverse abdominis contrations can be done anytime. Sitting, standing, and walking are excellent opportunities to practice, as it will improve posture. To learn more about how to better engage your core during everyday activities or exercises, feel free to consult your physical therapist. Remember, the core is like the foundation of a building. The weaker or stronger the foundation, determines how well the building will stand.
Toupelle Goodman, PT Aide & GTS Trainer
Photo References:
Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma;
Jackie Brand Personal Trainer;

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