FH Tip: Abdominals First, Limbs Second

So…speaking of pre-programmed body movements (seriously, I actually was in this last post on Engrams), there is one engram worthy of its own blog post.  More accurately, it’s a component of a larger engram–of most engrams really.  That alone is a large part of why it is so important.  What I’m referring to is the software coding that makes your abdominal muscles to engage prior to any and all limb movement.

The premise of this “software” design is that your body performs most efficiently and effectively when it has been stabilized first, and engaging your abdominal muscles (i.e. your core) is what creates that stability.  “Stability before mobility” is the mantra. And functioning by that rule not only makes you perform better, it protects you from back, shoulder and other injuries.

If all of this is news to you, then either your body already works that way and it’s second nature–which would be fantastic, and you can be dismissed now–or you have work to do. If you can’t accurately sense for yourself whether you’re contracting your core muscles, the easiest way to check is with a partner: sit on a chair or edge of a table, arms resting down by your sides while your partner gets behind you and places a couple fingers gently but firmly on each side of your midsection (somewhere between the pelvis and the ribs). When your partner’s in position and ready, s/he then should instruct you to raise your arm (either one or both, doesn’t matter) and immediately take note of whether your abdominal muscles activated before your limbs moved even an inch.  The delay between abdominal contraction and arm movement should be mere milliseconds, so your partner has to be in position and alert or s/he’ll miss it.

If the pattern is off such that the abdominals never noticeably activate or do so too late, the muscles have to be re-trained.  A good way to start is by making a point to consciously engage your core muscles right before you do any movements: getting out of a chair, reaching for something, lifting, putting on pants or a shirt, etc. (See How to Engage Your Core Effectively) Eventually it will become second nature with no thought required… which is exactly how it should be. If your body’s not catching on after a few weeks, a physical therapist can often suggest techniques that might be more suited to your specific patterns of malfunction.

TIP: For best function, performance, and injury-avoidance, ensure that your abdominal muscles activate before before arms or legs ever move.