View Full Version : Flexing abs
11-10-2007, 02:55 PM
One concept I am confused about is the issue of abdominal pressure. For all the exercises I just suck in a big breathe of air into my stomach at the start of the movement and don't flex my abs. Am I supposed to also flex my abs during the lifts? SS mentions "abdominal contraction" in addition to raising the chest. Does this refer simply to getting a big breathe of air by pushing out the stomach at the beginning of the movement, or "flexing" the abs? Should the abs be pushed "out" throughout the entire exercise?
11-11-2007, 07:58 PM
You seem to be confused about an important piece of anatomical information. The air goes into your LUNGS, not your stomach. Your lungs and your stomach are separated by your diaphragm into your thoracic and abdominal cavities, respectively. The big, held breath (the Valsalva maneuver) increases the pressure in the thoracic cavity only. Contracting your abdominal muscles increases the pressure in your abdominal cavity at the same time, and allows this increased pressure to be applied all along the spine from bottom to top, not just the part that lies behind the lungs. The abs are not pushed "out" when they are contracted; they just get shorter, meaning they pull the pubis and the ribcage closer together while the spine stays in extension. This effectively increases the pressure against the spine from the front --the anterior -- side and reinforces the curve that has been established by the back muscles. Pushing "out" refers to a way to think about using your belt to help increase this pressure, but this is just a way to think about contracting against the belt, and is not what actually happens, especially if you don't have a belt on.
11-12-2007, 06:04 PM
Mark, I greatly appreciate the clarification!
I've never worn a belt, and don't plan on wearing one. The "pushing out" must only refer to when a belt is worn, and since I don't wear a belt, I will forget about doing that and focus on tightening my abs instead.
Just to recap:
1.) Should the abs should be contracted after the back has gone into extension?
2.) I see that there are two different ways of breathing. I've been taught that during the correct way of breathing, the belly (stomach) should be expanding and condensing (diaphragmatic breathing), instead of your chest coming up and down. Which is the correct way for the exercises? Also, should the chest be raised before the breath is taken?
11-12-2007, 06:33 PM
This is from Dave Tate:
"Secret #7: Learn to use your belly!
I've caught more shit over this than any other aspect of training. But the truth is that every big squatter I know has learned how to use his abdominals while squatting. You must learn how to breathe into your belly. You want to pull as much air as you can into your belly, then flex and force your abdominals out.
Walk over to a mirror. Take a look at your shoulders and take a deep breath. Did they rise? If they did, then you're pulling all the air into your chest, not your belly. You need to learn how to breath into your belly. This is how we teach everyone to squat. For the squat, we advise the use of a weight belt worn one notch loose. This is to teach you to pull air into your belly then push out into the belt. The belt acts as a great training aid to push against.
As a side note, we use the same technique for all of our max-effort work, but don't use the belt in that situation. This is one aspect of our training that has been misunderstood for too long. We use the belt to teach how to use the abdominals for the squat, bench, and deadlift, and do not advocate its use for anything else unless the lifter feels it's needed. Many in the gym have worked up to 600 and 700 pound good mornings without any adverse effects and have been doing them this way for over ten years.
This brings me to the next point. We've been told breathing and using the abdominals this way will lead to back injuries. Louie Simmons has been coaching this for the past twenty years at Westside and hasn't had any lifters with these problems. Learning to use the belly has made a profound difference in all of our squats, especially for those who've never tried it. I've seen squats increase by 25 to 50 pounds on this aspect alone. Now that's what squatting big is all about.
Filling your belly with air will also create a larger torso and give you a bigger base of support from which to drive. Ever wonder why those with bigger waists squat so much? Think about it. We want as much tightness and support as we can get from the gross muscles of the spinal errectors, abdominals, and obliques."
What Dave describes is the way I have been doing it - sucking air into my belly, and pushing my abs "out". Help a noob out; I'm just getting confused. I would greatly prefer your word over Dave's.
11-12-2007, 09:22 PM
I don't know that preferring my word over Dave's is that brilliant an idea. I think it might be more productive to figure out how we might be telling you the same thing, since you can't squat the weights Dave has handled by breathing wrong.
It is a demonstrable fact that air stays in the lungs, and since this is the case Dave is describing the movement using different terminology than I do. There are two sets of muscles involved in breathing: the diaphragm pulls down into the abdominal cavity to produce the negative pressure that causes air to enter the lungs upon inhalation, and a full deep breath always involves a maximal diaphragmatic contraction. And the ribcage, or "costal" muscles in synch with the abs and other torso muscles produces the positive pressure which causes exhalation. An inefficient type of inhalation often seen in respiratory disease patients with compromised lung function involves raising the ribcage using the upper back and serratus muscles to get a more full breath.
I think that by pulling air into the "belly", Dave is increasing the pressure in his thoracic cavity without allowing the ribcage to expand upward as much. It might very well be that an unexpanded, unelevated ribcage can be pressured more effectively than a ribcage that expands upward during inhalation. His cue to "force the abdominals out" is the interesting part. If the abs are not allowed to expand outward it would not be possible to get as big a breath with the diaphragm as it would be if the abdominal cavity made room for it with this cue. So I think that forcing the abs out actually makes room for the air, and then an ab contraction follows. An abdominal contraction involves shortening the rectus abdominis -- applying isometric tension between the ribs and the pelvis. If the abs were not contracted, intra-abdominal pressure would be lower rather than higher, so some ab contraction must occur after the deep diaphragmatic contraction.
Different cues work better or worse depending on the circumstances under which they are used. I am not sufficiently familiar with Westside methods to criticize them in a public forum such as this. I am pretty good at teaching people how to do the 5 lifts. But I am familiar with Louie's, Dave Tate's, and Jim Wendler's abilities with regard to making people strong, and they are better at that than I am by far. I shall always exercise caution when examining the methods of people who have demonstrated that they can produce results.
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