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When we do exercises of any kind, there is often an instructor or coach in the background telling us to “use our core”. But what does that really mean? It turns out that there are two different ways to do this and they lead to opposing results. Hence, it is important to know which one to work on in order to meet your fitness goals.

There are two ways to activate your core

Pull your belly button towards your spine

This is probably familiar to you if you’ve ever done Pilates or physical therapy. You should pull your belly button towards your spine or think about “hollowing out” or “pulling in” your abdominal muscles. In this movement you are still allowing yourself to breathe; You don’t suck in your stomach, but tense it with your muscles. (If you look in the mirror, you will find that your waist appears narrower. Sometimes people do this to pose for a picture or to create a slimmer look while performing as a dancer.)

The reason this is a common practice in many physical therapy, yoga, and Pilates classes is that this is yours. activated Transversus abdominis, one of the lesser known abdominal muscles. A study in 1999 found that people with low back pain were less likely to contract that muscle while moving their bodies.

Unfortunately, this step turns out to be can’t really do much to protect your back after all, but it’s still popular advice. When you practice yoga or Pilates this way, you are in good company. However, that doesn’t mean you have to.

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Support yourself before lifting anything heavy

Now let’s talk about what to do when lifting a heavy weight or preparing for some kind of show of strength. First you need to stiffen up. (Stiffeners can also be a great alternative to hollowing out your abdomen in physical therapy, but I’m not your PT so discuss it with them.)

As you prepare for a lift, you’ll act like you’re expecting to get punched in the stomach. Try now: you will likely hold your breath, flex your abs, and feel the muscles around your waist tighten. It can appear like you are pulling your rib cage towards your pelvis. This, along with everything else, activates your transverse abs. (If it feels like you’re having a bowel movement, do it right.)

That’s what powerlifters and others do Weightlifter mean when they talk about supporting an elevator. If you are wear a belt, Tension presses the muscles in your midsection against the belt (not just in front, but all around).

This process turns your torso into a solid, stable, pressurized column that can support a lot of weight (as in a Squat) or hold his position still while applying force in another direction (as in a Deadliftwhere your torso is the link between your back, your leg muscles that apply strength, and your arms that support the dumbbell in your hands).

Hold your breath and lock it with a Valsalva maneuver is usually part of this process. In some cases – for example if you are pregnant or have certain medical conditions – your doctor may advise you not to hold your breath under pressure. You can still do your best to support yourself; Instead of holding your breath, simply exhale slowly as you lift. (If you have health concerns, speak to your doctor about whether this is right for you.)

When trying to do heavy lifting in the gym, keep in mind the difference between these two ways to train your core, and don’t try to hollow your stomach or pull your navel towards the spine as it will have the opposite effect that you want. Save this application for the Pilates class; If you are under a barbell, make sure that you are tensing up.