After presenting at dozens of conferences, writing hundreds of articles and a few books it has become clear to me yet again that the message is just not getting out there. Maybe this is my fault; maybe I was trying too hard not to offend my peers and for that I am sorry. I'm sorry because the information that you need to stay injury free is not getting to you.
Just the other day I read an article from a public safety fitness person with excellent credentials. What this person was touting and recommending on how to protect the back and stay injury free is flat out wrong! There I said it: wrong. This individual and many others still teach the drawing in maneuver aka pulling the belly in to the spine, as a way to tighten the core. This technique however has been proven again and again to only contract one muscle: one.
There are roughly ten muscles directly involved in stiffening the spine and four specifically for contracting the abs. It makes no sense to recommend a technique that will actually make the abs weaker and leaves the spine unstable. Yet most of you are afraid to change; to accept that what we know has changed. There is a better way to do it. It's been proven by numerous studies yet professionals continue to teach a less effective and even dangerous technique because they simply do not realize that science and research has advanced.
There will be two types of people reading this article: those who have never sustained and injury and those who have. To those uninjured few, your time will come. I do not say that to sound like a doom and gloom type, but statistically a career in public safety leaves you open to injury. To those of you that have had an injury, specifically to the lower back or knees, what we are about to discuss will help. Either way please accept that you are not bullet proof: you are human and you need to understand that there is a way to have a truly strong core doing much less work than you realize.
The technique that I am talking about is called an abdominal brace. If you are about to take a blow to the stomach what is your natural reaction? To tighten up; to stiffen. If, on a primal level, your body already knows what to do why would you even consider forcing the opposite type of contraction? My educated guess is that there are so many people that are unaware of the benefits of bracing the abdominal wall and they still believe that pulling the belly in is the way to go. Nothing is more terrifying than someone who does not know that what they know is wrong.
At a recent conference an officer asked me why this would help him in his job. I told him that when your body knows how to maintain a stiff spine, which is the net effect of bracing the abs, you will posses better balance, better body control, protect the spine and use less muscular energy doing it. When you know how to brace the abs all your workouts are better because now you are truly using your core to exercise therefore making you a better tactical athlete. When you know how to brace your abs lifting, jumping, climbing and running are more efficient making you faster and stronger. When you know how to brace your abs your chance of winning a physical confrontation, especially when it ends up on the ground is better because your body control and center of gravity are better. To top of all those benefits your breathing is more controlled which makes marksmanship more consistent. If bracing your abs can do all that how on earth can anyone argue that pulling your belly in is better?
Bracing the abs and stiffening the spine is simple to learn and just takes practice and consistency to master. The nice thing is that less force is actually better because control is superior to force in this case, so less is actually more. While standing with your feet shoulder width apart hip hinge into a very small squat, just like leaning your tush back onto a bar stool. At this point your abs will actually naturally engage so all that is needed now is a slight push out of your belly. This is an abdominal brace. My challenge to you is to practice the brace with any physical task that you perform, from yard work to exercise - brace your abs. Over time your core will be stronger and your chance of injury will drastically reduce. It seems too good to be true but it is not; this is how your body wants to move; we just have to remind it how to do it.
Years of sitting to long, poor exercise choice, poor posture, lack of self care and sports makes our hip flexor muscles way too tight. This tightness actually inhibits your abs from firing properly. Compounding this problem and concurrent to this tightness in the hip flexors is a concept called gluteal amnesia. Yup, you read that right; your tush forgets what to do. So this inhibited abdominal wall and a tush that cannot remember its job is what leaves us open for injury.
Bracing the abs is the first key to being fit, strong and pain free. It's the foundation to your house. Next we need to delve into on duty stretching, off duty self care such as massage, stretching and law enforcement specific exercise that will not contribute to the patterns we discussed above. For now, brace those abs whenever you can and before you know it your body will have learned how to brace in all situations.