Bodyweight Training Zone!

Are You Doing Your Abdominal Training Wrong?

By Mike Boyle

After listening to a recent lecture by Mike Clark whose wisdom on back pain is recorded elsewhere in this edition, I quickly realized that I had fallen behind on how we train the abdominal area of our athletes.

At his lecture Clark explains, you need to teach athletes to use their transverse abdominus to "draw in" their abs.  The transverse abdominus had been previously regarded as a little used, deep abdominal muscle.

It was referred to as the transversalis and was basically ignored in Gray’s Anatomy.  Now Australian researchers have told us that the transverse abdominus and the multifidus (another ignored muscle) were the keys to unlocking the cure for back pain.

"OK," I wondered, "what actually is "drawing-in" and how do I teach it to 300 athletes daily?

My answer came partly, from all places, a magazine for pregnant women.  They have been taught the concept of "drawing-in" for much longer than those of us in the athletic world have ever known the concept existed.  Postpartum therapists realize the importance of using and strengthening the transverse abdominus because of its importance in the childbirth process.

To teach the concept of "drawing-in" we began with a couple of analogies and an exercise taken from Yoga called the Angry Cat.  In this position (See Fig. 1) the weight of the internal organs cause the internal organs to weigh down against the rectus abdominus.(See Fig. 2)  We put our athletes in the Angry Cat position and instruct them to "draw-in" by using one of three analogies.

(1) Pull your bellybutton through to your back.
(2) Envision trying to get through a tight area between two objects at waist height.
(3) Or, for our female clients, envision trying to zip up America’s tightest pair of pants.

After this we progress to three exercises that we simply call Lying Draw-In, Seated Draw-In and Standing Draw-In.

Lying Draw-In
(Fig. 3) - We use an object such as two hockey pucks taped together too visually reinforce the action of drawing-in.  The athlete
is instructed to lie on the back and draw the pucks down into the abdomen without initiating a crunching action.  The key is to learn to fire the transverse abdominus without firing the rectus.

Seated Draw-In
(Fig. 4) - Performed seated on the stability ball.  Wrap a 48" length of rope around the waist.  Hold the right end of the rope in the left hand and left end of the rope in the right hand so that the rope is wrapped around the waist.  From this position try to "draw-in" away from the rope.  The cue here is to make yourself as tall and thin as possible.  Use the rope to reinforce the "draw-in" action.

Standing Draw-In
Perform same as seated.  Cue "tall and thin".  This is the most functional position. As you "draw-in" gently pull the rope tighter.  This will teach your athletes to understand the concept.
Try these techniques with your athletes to help them understand a critical, but difficult concept and watch their posture improve their back pain decrease.



Michael Boyle is Director of Strength and Conditioning at Mike Boyle’s Strength Conditioning Center, Winchester, MA. 

He is also an assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at Boston University and former Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Boston Bruins.

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