Opinion: Doing Yoga Will Ruin Your Abs

If you’ve been to any yoga class, you’ve likely heard the instructor cue you to “draw your belly button to your spine” during various poses to work your core. This is sometimes known as “hollowing” or even “creating a vacuum” in bodybuilding circles. And let’s face it, it’s not uncommon to think about sucking in your belly when you’re at the beach.

This cue has been passed down from decade to decade in yoga and pilates. The effectiveness of this technique has never been called into question, because it is something that has always been done the same way. This is even a method that some physical therapists have used to help prevent low back pain via “core activation.”

So why change? Well, I’m sorry to say that if you really want to protect your spine and build a strong core, you should NOT be drawing your belly button to your spine.

You actually want to do the exact opposite.

The ideology behind “drawing in” is to activate your Transverse Abdominis (TA), which is a deep core muscle. This is based on research that shows that the TA activates a fraction of a second prior to movement, and people with low back pain had delayed TA activation patterns.

Makes sense right? Wrong. When you “draw in,” you do activate the TA, but in order to do so the other muscles of the core (Rectus Abdominis, Internal/External Obliques) have to become inactive. The net effect of this is a less stable spine and a greater risk of injury.

Instead, do the exact opposite and learn to brace. Draw out. If someone randomly came up to you and punched you in the stomach, you would involuntarily brace (assuming you saw them gear up to do so). When you brace, you simultaneously activate all the layers of your core (superficial, middle, deep) as well as your lats and back extensors. This tension protects your spine. Some physical therapist might argue that there is a place for both techniques at different times. Again, this is flawed thinking. Why would someone want to learn two different motor patterns when one pattern is superior and the other pattern weakens the other muscles of the core just to “strengthen” the TA? It beats me.

by Dan Cerone