Draw-In vs. Brace

This post was inspired by some of the things I added to a Facebook thread from Bret Contreras discussing Megan Fox’s butt.  It was from last Thursday if you want to track it down.

Bret's Book

At some point, the comments diverted from a glute-based topic to the core, where someone suggested drawing-in the navel would improve the perforamance of the hip thrust/glute bridge, etc.

Also in my DVD, which is probably still on timeline to be out by the end of the summer, someone asked where I stood on the Draw-In vs. Bracing.

So here is the answer.  But first I have to change the question.  Draw-In vs. Bracing as in one or the other isn’t the way I look at the topic.  The reason is that I don’t use the draw-in at all……….as in ever.

So we can start there.  There is no doubting the EMG and Diagnostic Ultrasound evidence that the draw-in elicits a greater TvA response.  And there is also no questioning the importance of a TvA response as a component of the inner core.

But please consider the following………..
1.  TvA came to prominence from the work of the Queensland folks in proving that the TvA had a delayed onset of response in folks with back pain.  That’s it.  The study said no more and no less.  Despite all these attempts to “activate” TvA, in fact, the TvA is never OFF.  It always activates whether you draw-in or not, it just activates later in the presence of pain.  More recent evidence suggests that even after a bout of nociception is resolved, the previous neuromuscular strategies may still be present.  This is called a High Threshold (Pain) Strategy.

Now particularly for a performance or fitness based training program, there is absolutely no reason to consider the Draw-In.  This was never the message from Hodges, Jull, Richardson, etc.  A long time ago, I remember reading a Q&A interview with maybe it was Richardson who was almost laughing at the fitness worlds taking the TvA stuff on a tangent.

So if you are not in pain or potentially coming off of a back pain injury, you don’t even have a reason to think about these things.  And there are still better options like segmental rolling that can ensure TvA firing as per similarly impressive EMG studies.

Bottom line here is that regardless of whatever ultrasound studies are showing you, the TvA is never not turning on or weak.  It’s the timing of it that qualifies the efficiency.  The only time TvA is not on is when you’re dead.  And I got that line from Marc Comerford, and it shows he is actually worth something.

You're not the most important muscle in the world, Mr. TvA.

2.  This isn’t a defense of the brace as much as a knock on the draw-in.

Plain and simple.  Try to push the back of a parked car as if there were a billion dollars underneath.  Can you keep the draw-in?

The stability required to access the strength for moving loads can not come from a draw-in.  And the argument for the draw-in to make sure TvA is on is debunked from the above.  No matter what you try and do, the TvA is on, and you are going to wind up bracing when you attempt to move bigger loads.

I’m sure somebody is going to say they can pull like 135 with their stomach sucked in or this or that.  I’m talking about when you need your core the most when you’re performing a maximal effort expression of strength or speed, you can not accomplish the task with a draw-in.  The body will not allow it.  And it doesn’t allow it because it’s wrong.

Ready to take over the world.

3.  While it is a very rudimentary thought in the world of strength athletics, I will acquiesce that it is not in the common teachings of rehab and training that creating intra-abdominal pressure through a “fattened” abdomen is a sign of an effective core.

The EMG studies that gave birth to this whole TvA fallacy also support that diaphragmatic breathing not only yields signal in the TvA but also the multifidus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm.  And unlike the action of the draw-in, diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to be associated with back pain negatively when you can’t breath that way and positively when you can.

So if you don’t believe in the breath, you are probably behind the curve, but the teachings are out there.  But if you do believe in the diaphragmatic breath, one of the objective criterion is costal depression and creating a tensioned hoop surrounding the navel.  You should not only get fat in the gut, but also be able to push your fingers away from the abdominal flanks as you inspire.

Try doing that with a draw-in.  It’s one or the other.

Do you want TvA alone, or do you want TvA, diaphragm, multifidus, and pevlic floor, and the functionality of the deep neck flexors?

This isn’t much of a discussion for me.  There is no use for the draw-in because as you draw-in, you change the fixed point (punctum fixum) of the diaphragm resulting in not even a mechanical disadvantage, but almost a mechanical impossiblity for it to contract and depress the ribs.

Take a look at some well trained athletes and see if you can appreciate what I mean when I say fat abs.  Think Chuck Lidell.  He looks like he has a little belly, but he has abs on top of it.  By hook or by crook, his belly is likely a function of abdominal tone from diaphragmatic breathing along with outer core tone from whatever his other choices are.

Fat Abs

Ask any strength athlete about getting a belly full of air and pushing out against the belt before a lift.  That is the strong core, not the draw-in.

So now that I’ve changed the question from Draw-In vs. Push-Out, where does bracing fit in?

I don’t think you should need to brace unless the load of the movement demands it.  Now that is going to be different for everybody.

The problem for folks in pain is that bracing can eliminate or control the pain, but it takes work to do that.  That is not a bad thing, but it is not the most efficient motor program in my opinion.  Bracing hard in the presence of pain assumes a dysfunctional inner core.  We learned that above from the TvA research which also applies to all 5 of the inner core muscles.  They are all associated with back pain.

It’s not that the inner core is more important as a muscle group than the outer core.  It’s the inner core is more important in the sequence of the motor control than the outer core.

For the same load, if the inner core is reflexively appropriate, you won’t need to brace as hard or as often for a given load.

Certainly you will have to brace when you progress, but part of progression can be demonstrating integrity via breathing.  For instance, you may need to brace hard to hold the plank for 30 seconds.  Eventually that plank will not require such an intense brace, and you will know this because you will be able to demonstrate diaphragmatic breaths during those same 30 seconds when you harness your inner and outer core.  Then you move on.

So all in all…………………
Always get fat when you breath, never Draw-In, and Brace if you must.

  • July 25, 2010

Leave a Reply 16 comments

vchen@westfield-fitness.com Reply

“…and it shows he is actually worth something.” Classic.

chris Reply

“Also in my DVD, which is probably still on timeline to be out by the end of the summer,”

Charlie, stop trying to be copy Gray and keep pushing back the release date, its going to be great, we get it, just release it!

Charlie Reply

Chris – It’s a long process. The editing time line is out of my control as far as when they get back drafts to us. I might send them stuff back in a week, and then it’s 3 weeks when they send me the next batch.

But I will take your excellent advice and “stop trying to be copy Gray.” Sounds like a good plan.

Bert Dansby Reply


I absolutely buy into what you’ve said here 100-percent, but I still have 1 question related tp drawing in…………..perhaps I have seen too many pictures of Frank Zane performing a vacuum pose, but is there anything wrong with executing something like that a few times per day during lulls in activity?

It probably has little to no practical benefit, and clearly has no place in training, so this question is more along the lines of whether or not this may, by performing a seemingly innocuous activity, be undercutting anything you might be trying to accomplish through quality training. For example, I may be standing on the platform waiting for my train to arrive, and I will simply exhale slowly, draw in, resume as normal a breathing pattern as possible while maintaining the draw in, and then holding for as long as I can continue breathing that way without having to “let out” the draw in. Again, it is probably nonsensical of me to even be doing this at all at any time, and yet I persist with the practice. As such I just want to be certain I am not unwittingly undermining myself, particularly since I never draw in when involved in my “formal” training.

Charlie Reply

Bert – It is innocuous. Not hurting anything by the movement. But a whole lot of it will inhibit the diaphragm which then is the cascade starter for everything bad. Lewitt has stated no movement pattern can have integrity if breathing is not appropriate.

Taylor James Laviolette Reply

LOL… “You are not the most important muscle in the world”… Thanks…that’s great.

I do appreciate how you mentioned sequencing.

This material is challenging and thought provoking for the many who are not interested in doing their own homework.

I’m sure to keep following….

Taylor James Laviolette, RMT Vancouver, British Columbia

bkellylimerick@gmail.com Reply

Good stuff as always. Draw in seems very prevalent in the yoga/Pilates community which says something about their so called approach to science, I suppose.

martin spitzeck Reply

good timing for me. i am writing an article to finish my certification for level2 strength and conditioning coach on this topic. Here in australia we are all brainwashed re the tva even at the elite level. It was not until i saw mcgill in 1993 that opened my eyes to another way. Can you explain high threshold strategy and any studies behind it.
Many muscles have delayed timing and reduced cross sectional area post injury not just the tva. I am aware the sfma is based on this cocept. Toe touching squeezing a ball between the thighs increase rom in the hami.
Adductors contraction stabilising the pelvis not the inner core. I understand the concepts and they sound good. But are ther alternate reasons for this.
cheers martin

Charlie Reply

Martin – I will wind up writing a post about it at some point, but the best way to quickly describe High Threshold Strategy is shifting the role of the mobilizers to stabilizers in the environment of true stabilizers being inhibited.
Somebody doesn’t work hard.
Somebody else picks up the slack.
Somebody gets hurt or loses performance.

This can happen anywhere in the body, but it can be a challenging concept because you are correct, outer core bracing can also improve expressions of mobility and stability in the limbs.

In considering the toe touch with the ADDuctor squeeze, the ball squeeze is the secondary strategy only if you can’t get to your toes in the first place. So if you have exhausted your inner core function, it is very appropriate to then access the outer core.
And quite honestly, you would have cleared ASLR and/or supine to prone segmental rolling before attempting the toe touch trick.

craigliebensondc@gmail.com Reply

Love the billion dollar example. It’s a “no-brainer”. Cholewicki (McGill’s 1st PhD student) studied how people stabilize the back when a load carried in their arms suddenly shifts – think carrying an awkward box or a baby that suddenly shifts. Co-contraction of agonists & antagonists fired quick, efficiently (not too strong), & then after load steadied relaxed quickly.

Latency of firing onset, over activation & latency of relaxation were all correlated w/ back pain subjects. He later studied this in a group w/out LBP to see if it was merely a protective reaction. Followed them for a year to see if the test could predict who would be an “at risk” group. Turns out those w/ slower activation & relaxation along w/ excessive peak firing for the task were more likely to develop future LBP.

It’s all about 360 degree balance not about TrA being a soloist! I do disagree w/ you though that the Queensland group didn’t want folks training Abdominal Hollowing. They taught how to entrain this in their courses.


Andriy Shevchenko Reply

Hi, Charlie.

When commenting to Martin about the toe touch with ADDuctor squeeze, you said that accessing the outer core after inner core function has been exhausted is entirely appropriate. In this instance (and based upon your comments about ASLR and/or supine to prone segmental rolling I am guessing that it is, but I still wanted to ask to be certain), the client will have already been cleared as having “enough” inner core function where accessing the outer core would be contributing in addition to proper inner core function as opposed to a substituting for insufficient inner core function?

Charlie Reply

Andriy – The first breakout for the toe touch is the single-leg toe touch. If there is an asymmetry, you would continue the breakout to see if the dysfunctional side was a mobility or stability problem. Along the way would be PSLR, ASLR, and the rolling. You would do all that before accessing the toe touch trick.

If you have symmetry, you would go to long sitting. If you have the long sitting with appropriate sacral angle, then you could go right to the toe touch. If you don’t have the toe touch in long sitting or a dysfunctional sacral angle, you continue the breakouts to refine when or if the toe touch is appropriate.

Andy Reply

“Bottom line here is that regardless of whatever ultrasound studies are showing you, the TvA is never not turning on or weak.”

Well you can say that about every single muscle in the body when you walk, run, sprint etc (Glutes, leg muscles etc). The TvA is just like everything else in the body, make it as strong or leave it as weak as you want.

Howard Reply

Drawing-in versus bracing? TrA is on (like you said) but it is not the right contraction in either method when someone has a history of LBP. Paul Hodges was appalled at what the Pilates instructors were teaching with the drawing in. What the Queensland Profs teach is retraining to separate the TrA from the IO with ultrasound imaging biofeedback. This type of rehab is indicated when the IO and TrA are hypertonic at rest. It worked for me, but it is quite difficult and expensive (investing in an ultrasound machine and setting up a room) to use in clinic practice. Many patients get frustrated with it and there are so many other problems that can also be addressed during rehabilitation. Why does it work versus “strength” training? It solves the compensation pattern whereas strength training may just make a successful adaptation pattern. I know that you don’t agree and that is okay with me.

joseph Reply

Hi you are correct all the big pro athletes do this . Questions what about bird dogs dead bug still take the diagram breath in sorry weird question.

Charlie Reply

Birdog can be executed with the same IAP principles

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