I've been wanting to write about Hollowing Vs Bracing for so long but can't seem to find a way to express my thoughts any better than this article already does.
So I'm sharing it here until I feel the need to get my act together and post from my own point of view. But seriously, this is one post I wish I had written ;-)
Read the full post here
"If you’ve ever suffered a back injury, gone to a Pilates class, or worked with a fitness coach who tried to help you activate your core, then you’ve heard it already. The infamous “draw your belly button to your spine” cue.
Touted as a way to improve your core stability this technique, known as abdominal hollowing, has been a universally accepted, go-to exercise for physical therapists (PTs) and fitness coaches for the last decade. In fact, following any sort of low back injury, abdominal hollowing is usually the number one exercise physical therapists teach clients during rehabilitation.
But let me ask you something: just because something has always been done a certain way, does that make it the best way?
The abdominal hollowing technique comes from a group of Australian researcher who published a study in 1999 that indicated that in healthy individuals the deep muscles of the core - specifically the transversus abdominis (TrA) - would activate a fraction of a second before any movement was performed. In other words, before participants would perform a movement, their TrA would fire.
When they tested individuals with low back pain, however, they found the TrA had a delayed reaction. This lead to trying to isolate the TrA in order to fix the altered motor pattern, and here is where abdominal hollowing was born.
The technique was meant to engage the deeper core muscles, including the TrA and multifidis, without causing the more superficial abdominal muscles (internal and external obliques and rectus abdominis) to contract. The problem with this is that focusing on single muscles actually creates dysfunction in spines and is highly problematic.
Though it is true that studies have shown there are perturbed motor patterns in the TrA in individuals with back pain, more recent studies have shown that perturbed patterns of activation are actually found in virtually all muscles in those with back pain. You see, our muscles work as teams to not only create joint torque, but to also (and more importantly) maintain core stability. There is no single muscle responsible for this.
So instead of training muscles as a team and as they function in real life, hollowing aims to instead activate a single muscle in isolation. Now, research does show that hollowing will in fact produce increased activity in the TrA, but at what cost? Yes, you are getting a greater TrA activation, but you are also causing a weakening of the external and internal oblique muscles, as they must essentially be inactive in order for hollowing to occur. This actually leads to a less stable spine, meaning a greater chance of injury - the exact opposite effect from what we want.
Enter Abdominal Bracing
Think about what you would do if you were to prepare yourself for someone to punch you in the gut. You would immediately tense and stiffen you core to brace for the impact. This is exactly what abdominal bracing is, a term first coined by Dr. Stuart McGill of Canada, a leading expert in spine mechanics.
In abdominal bracing, you are simultaneously co-activating all layers of core muscles (remember the anatomy lesson?), in addition to activating your lats, quadratus lumborum, and back extensors. This means the entire abdominal wall is activated from all angles, sides, and directions, causing the three layers of the muscles to actually physically bind together.
Some therapists and coaches will argue that abdominal bracing and hollowing do not need to be mutually exclusive exercises. They say each technique is good and their use depends on what you’re doing. For example, I’ve spoken to therapists who say abdominal hollowing is ideal for a Pilates class, during a physiotherapy session, or during day-to-day tasks, while bracing is ideal for more complex movements such as lifting weights.
This is flawed thinking. Why would we teach our body two completely different motor patterns? If we teach abdominal hollowing for everyday tasks, we are essentially encouraging our rectus abdominis and oblique muscles to weaken and remain inactive. Furthermore, we are not allowing our core to maintain its stiffness, which means one unexpected bump, fall, or movement and we could be dealing with a significant back injury. Our bodies do not work in isolation, and we should not be training them as if they do.
When it comes to spinal stability all of our muscles work together and play an important role. These muscles must be balanced in order to be able to withstand large loads placed upon them to keep us injury free. Training single muscles leads to the exact opposite effect, instead causing an unstable, injury prone spine.
People, it’s time we stop getting this wrong. Stop drawing in your belly button, and start working on improving your core stiffness. Your body will thank you for it!"
Original Post: http://breakingmuscle.com/learn/how-are-we-still-getting-it-wrong-abdominal-hollowing-vs-bracing