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My Story: Understanding Intra-Abdominal Pressure to Improve Performance

What is Intra-Abdominal Pressure and Why is it important?

In the following blog posts, Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP) will be described as someone's ability to generate resistance within the abdomen & back muscles to protect the spine by stabilizing & reducing disc compression. This tension will be extremely important when it comes to applying pressure to your transverse abdominis, one of the muscles responsable for stabilizing your lumbar and thoracic spine while performing heavy lifting (PS: that's the reason why you're using a belt to perform exercice, to facilitate the pressure on the TVA muscle). We'll be looking at it from a coaching perspective to increase safety and performance of ours athletes. For a long time, my back would blow up when ever I would do volume work of certain movements patterns (e.g hinging, hip flexion & anterior pelvic tilt). During this time, my coaches, physiotherapists, chiropractors and other specialists were telling me to simply strengthen my core to get rid of the back pain, but that’s not enough because engaging your abdomen muscles doesn't automatically translate to more pressure within it... IAP has to be taught.

Applying IAP Training and Progression

This natural pressure mechanism acting like a weightlifting belt, responsible from stabilizing your spine needs awareness to be understood. If you are a coach, you can walk your athletes through those simple steps:

(1) Breathing - Everybody thinks of the diaphragm as THE breathing muscle, you're not wrong, but it also work as a spine stabilizer. By contracting itself (when performing inhale retention) the diaphragm moves down to the abdomen cavity and allow a better IAP. For this reason, I would suggest my athlete to take a deep breath and holding it before every heavy lift.

(2) Activation - If you've been coaching for a long-time you're most likely familiar with Dr. McGill's theories and how to apply them. To create activation and stability within the abdomen, he recommends the following : 2.1 - Curl up 2.2. Bird-Dog 2.3 Side plank

(3) Awareness - The activation of core muscles paired with a proper breathing retention is the perfect combination for successful bracing and to create tension from the ground up prior to lifting heavy loads, but it is incomplete. Your athlete must be aware and understand how to co-activate both at the same time to ensure an increase in performance and a decrease in injury. The following are the tools that have helped me the most:

3.1 - Belly press with belt - Holding an empty bar, ask your athlete to inhale, hinge at the hip & press in the WL belt at 360 degrees for an isometric contraction of 5seconds - repeat 4-5 times.

3.2 - Curl up with a kinesthetic approach - If my athlete doesn't understand and can't visualize the task ahead, I like to make him feel the desired stimulus by touching him and placing him. Ask your athlete to perform a McGill Curl up, place your hand by his TVA and ask him to push your hand out for 5 seconds, repeat 4-5/side.

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