I took a new spin class recently and as much as it pains me to sit on those awful seats, I do really enjoy the work out. It also plays on my competitive side. I spend the entire class trying to “beat” the instructor. Yes – I will pass them (even on the stationary bike).
Anyway – it didn't take long to realize that this class was no ordinary spin sesh. Next thing I know we are standing up out of the saddle then back down…just to stand back up…lean forward…and sideways…now backward…back down. It was like jazzercise on a bike, but I played along. Until I went cross-eyed when the instructor decided it was time to do “core” training. He instructed the class to “suck your belly button to your spine,” and proceeded to perform crunches forward into the handlebars.
You may be asking, “Well, what’s wrong with a little variety?” Well – it wasn't the variety. It was the belly button to your spine part that caught me. Even though you hear it in your Pilates class or perhaps even your Monday night yoga class, it does not mean that it is correct. In fact it can be detrimental.
The thought behind the ‘Navel to Spine’ practice is that it contracts your core, but does it? The core is much more than your six-pack (which is definitely under there) but includes the thoracic diaphragm, pelvic floor musculature, deep spine stabilizers, and so much more. The simplest way I can describe what the core can do for you during a movement is that it acts as a pressurized unit stabilizing the lumbar spine. Imagine your trunk as a beach ball (sometimes I don’t have to imagine too hard) and when you utilize your core musculature simultaneously the ball is filled with air creating a pressurized interior. However, if you are only using part of the group of muscles, say only the abdominals and you have no idea how to incorporate your thoracic and pelvic diaphragm, the beach ball is now deflated. This deflated, unpressurized ball now sets your lumbar spine up to be incredibly vulnerable. By pulling your stomach in you are setting yourself up for injury and grossly under utilizing the potential power and strength that can be generated there.
This is only skimming the surface of this topic, but at least you can now question your daily core training and at the same time increase its efficacy and safety.
So you ask the real question: Did I win the race? You bet I did. I skipped the awkward bike crunches, which allowed me to petal that much faster. I know that if those bikes weren’t anchored to a base I would have crossed the finish line well ahead of that instructor.
Questions? Ask away! This is a never-ending topic…
[Also, I found this cute gem online – The Seven Deadly Sins of Spinning:
Check out the last one…but disregard the part about the Pilates class. I hate to say never, but I cannot think of a time where sucking your belly button to your spine is the proper thing to do.]