At The Tummy Team, we strive to help educate and motivate people to be strong for life. We are functional core rehabilitation specialists. Our approach is to reconnect clients to their internal corset muscles and then train them to integrate that functional strength into everything they do in their life. While fitness can be an important piece to a strong and healthy lifestyle, certain fitness choices can also contribute to muscle imbalance, injury and reinforcing compensations patterns. As a result, we have coined the term Tummy Safe Fitness to help identify exercise that promotes neutral alignment and consistent activation of the internal core while avoiding bulging, bracing, or tenting of the abdominal wall. The truth is that in Tummy Safe Fitness, everything can be core work!
The core was not designed for isolated exercises but for postural stability in a variety of activities. It’s designed to stabilize the body while it is moving, lifting, reaching or being challenged in other ways. The Tummy Safe Fitness guidelines below are meant for all fitness choices (not just core exercises), to prevent injury and to be sure your core is strong and your body is balanced.
1.) Understand the Importance of your Transverse Abdominis
The transverse abdominis (TA) muscle wraps around your torso beginning along the sides of your spine, connecting to your lower six ribs and your pelvis all the way to your pubic bone, and then to the connective tissue the runs right down your midline. Its function is to support your organs, stabilize your spine, elongate you and give you postural strength and symmetry. The TA is a large corset muscle and it creates a co-contraction between all of the other essential core muscles when it is activated. So when we are working out in any way, it is essential to be sure your core is working with you and not against you.
(Psst….want to learn more about this amazing muscle? Watch this video!)
2.) Choose Neutral Pelvis and Neutral Rib Cage Alignment
For the transverse abdominis to be able to activate at all, the pelvis and rib cage need to be in neutral alignment. It is very common for clients to tuck their tail during certain exercises, or flare their ribs and arch the back when straining to complete a task. In order for the TA muscle to do the job of stabilizing and have the opportunity to build strength, the pelvis and rib cage needs to align on top of one another.
3.) Choose Upright Postures
We were designed to be standing and upright for most of our life activities. Exercising in upright positions translates into real-life function much more easily than exercises done lying down, on hands and knees or bent over. But most importantly, the transverse abdominis is most easily activated when we are upright with the pelvis and rib cage aligned when our core can be elongated. So consider the exercises you are doing and choose an upright version of that exercise. For example, if you want to strengthen your triceps with weight training, choose to do upright overhead lifts instead of tricep kickbacks in a bent over position.
4. Exhale and Engage on the Work of the Exercise
The “work of each exercise” is the place in the exercise where there is a strain or extra effort. For instance, in a bicep curl, the work (or effort) is when the elbow bends not when it straightens.
When the body is challenged in any way (lifting, bending, off-balance, jumping, etc.) it is forced to find strategies to stabilize itself so we do not fall down or injure ourselves. The core is designed to draw in and elongate to create this stabilizing force. However, if the TA muscle is weak and the body is not in optimal alignment, we naturally compensate by bracing and bearing down in an attempt to stabilize the body.
The transverse abdominis engages on the exhale of your breath (not when you hold your breath and not when you suck in). To ensure you are actually working your core and protecting your spine, you need to slow down and try to exhale and engage (draw the tummy in while elongating the core) on the work of each exercise. Coordinating this breath is key to the core working with each exercise.
5.) Simplify First! Then Gradually Add Complex Movements.
When trying to connect and coordinate the core with each exercise, it is best to start simple. Choose a few exercises you are already familiar with and that require only one muscle group at a time. For instance, start with a few leg lifts before jumping into an elaborate dance move. Building a core-active foundation on how you exercise is incredibly valuable, but it takes some serious brainpower in the beginning. Simple is better or you will find yourself forgetting about your alignment, holding your breath and essentially abandoning your core while you work out.
6.) Know the Difference Between Multi-Tasking and Compensating
Multitasking means to activate more than one body part at the same time – a great way to advance your strength. It means flexing your biceps and your hamstrings while you are engaging your core. Compensating, however, means using one muscle to try to help another muscle complete its job. Compensating is a survival technique, not a strengthening strategy. It means you cannot flex your biceps with those dumbbells without holding your breath, tucking your tail and clenching your gluts. This is where we like to tell our clients, ‘More is not better. Better is better!’ Form is everything. That often means that less adds up to more when you are doing it correctly.
Now that you’ve read these guidelines, if any of these are true, you would likely benefit from functional core rehabilitation:
- You do not know where your transverse is
- You cannot figure out the proper alignment
- You cannot coordinate your breathing to engage on the exhale
- You are compensating with most of your exercises
- You simply cannot figure out how to be fit and follow these guidelines
The Tummy Team has a very effective and comprehensive online program called Core Foundations which takes you through a step by step process of retraining your functional core strength, and then smoothly transitions you into effective Tummy Safe Fitness, and ultimately a core-strong lifestyle. Life is too short to waste time on ineffective workouts. Let us help you!!
Are you a fitness professional and want to learn more about Tummy Safe Fitness with your training, check out our professional training here.
Take a deeper look into our programs!