(NaturalHealth365) Connecting from the ribs and breastbone all the way down to the pubic bone, the “six pack” muscle or rectus abdominus is worshiped as the icon of fitness in our culture. In reality, this muscle should be toned, but not tight. Flat sexy abs – which are the gold standard of sexiness – are detrimental to breathing, moving and good postural alignment.
Are we being misled by the fitness industry?
People interested in feeling good as well as looking good should focus on their rib cage. This powerful expansive keg of muscle and bone holds our head on top of our spine, and supports good posture and breathing habits.
Have you ever noticed how people with strong and tight six-packs often have their head stuck out front like a chicken? This forward head and shoulder carriage is caused by tight and short abdominal muscles pulling the breastbone towards the pubic bone. Not only does this distort posture, but it also creates a rigid structure at risk for injury, and actually speeds up poor posture syndromes that show up in the aging process.
“Sexy” abs could be causing serious breathing problems
Both tight and weak abdominal muscles can reduce the length of the trunk, leaving little space for our internal organs, while at the same time creating a line of pull in the fascia or connective tissue that draws the head and neck forward. With a dropped breastbone and lifted shoulder blades, breathing is inhibited which leads to an overall reduction of health and vitality.
Having strong rib cage muscles, in contrast, tones our waist because the contractions of the rib cage muscles also engage our oblique muscles in our waist area. When we breathe by deeply expanding our ribs, we stretch our diaphragm from its connection at the inner surface of the ribs. Even deeper muscles in our core engage on the exhalation that help to tone and support our spine.
It’s time to re-think about how we exercise our bodies
Most exercises for the abs use exhalations during the lifting and contracting, causing a chain reaction that shortens the entire front of the body. Exhaling while bending forward or coming up into an abdominal crunch compresses the spine and shortens the front of the body.
The way to get the KEG is to use the movements of inhalation when doing the active contracting part of ab strengthening or crunch exercises. Breathe in while you sit up!
When doing ab work from a reclining bent knee floor position, most people exhale as they contract their stomach to lift their shoulders and head off the floor. The way to get toned fluid abdominals and a lengthened waist is to inhale on the exertion up and exhale slowly as you return to the floor.
Does your exercise routine create too much physical tension?
Many systems of exercise advocate keeping the navel drawn in and tight to create good posture and core strength. Chronic tension in our abdomen from holding your belly in restricts the movement of our ribs and is an aberration of natural function that sabotages our breath, alignment, digestion, elimination, feelings, movements, and moods.
You simply do not need to pull in the navel to gain strength or create upright alignment. The most important function of our core muscles is to stabilize our spine and keep the rib cage over our hips. Through deep breathing and functional movements, you can encode your nervous system to enlist your core muscles as stabilizers, providing you with a built-in, internalized ring of support.
The best exercises are ones that simulate how we use our body in real life. If you cannot take a deep breath while doing an exercise or yoga pose, you are training your six-pack to stay contracted in an unnatural and harmful way.
Make sure you are exercising your breathing muscles and training your abs to stabilize and not flex or flatten the spine. Do deep breathing and get the KEG!
About the author: Michaelle Edwards is a licensed massage therapist, yoga teacher, musician, and postural therapist living on Kauai. She invented a new painless way to do Yoga, fitness, self-massage and stretching called YogAlign that incorporates natural spine alignment and breath work to create good posture from the inside out. She is devoted to giving people the tools to heal themselves. Michaelle has a new book/DVD combo called YogAlign – Pain-free Yoga From Your Inner Core available at her website – YogAlign.com