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Ab engagement during standing

I often hear people talk about holding in their stomach while standing around, walking, etc. I am all for being cognizant of our bodies whenever possible. I do, however, feel there is a way to do it well and not well.

First off, what is that "holding in" trying to accomplish? We have different muscles for different functions. Some muscles stabilize us or keep us in position, others move our limbs and create gross movement. "Drawing in" is a gentle contraction to turn on our deep stabilizers, including the Transversus Abdominis (TrA). The TrA is a large muscle whose fiber's run for the most part, horizontal. It works by building internal pressure to help reduce gravity's effect on our spine and stabilize it. When purposely engaging this muscle during exercise, we should be able to breathe normally, use our diaphragm, and expand our rib cage to allow our lungs to fill. I find that when people engage this area, they tend to do the "holding in" too strongly. Just as when we lie down, when we are standing we don't need to engage ALL of the abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, obliques). When we do it affects breathing and it creates some undue tension. It is more of a gripping strategy than true strength. I like to think of this engagement as a hug for my organs and is a natural byproduct of good posture. This muscle shouldn't require attention to turn on, it is supposed to do it automatically. When we focus on alignment that is what happens.

So instead of thinking about keeping abdominals sucked in, which can lead to more tension in the body in general, focus on your posture by standing tall. Imagine that you are keeping your ribs over your pelvis, leaving room for your organs. Imagine your head floating on your neck. Because our system is enclosed, if we imagine that the ribs are floating over the pelvis in alignment, a vacuum effect takes place thus engaging all the right muscles in about as much contraction as we want to stay functionally sound.

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