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.
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.
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.
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.
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.