Save Your Spine…Get Your Belly FAT!! Part I
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“Say wha!?!?! I thought we were trying to REDUCE our belly fat!!”You”re right. Reducing the amount of fat storage on your trunk is a GREAT way to improve your health. Fat storage around the midsection has a significant correlation with risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and auto-immune disorder. However, my statement is not in regard to actual fatty tissue.
“Get your belly fat” is a term I heard recently regarding spinal stabilization, i.e. a way to tighten your abdominal muscles to brace the spine and prevent it from buckling under load. Unless we fall on our butts hard, a majority of injuries to the spine occur when it moves into an end-range… by keeping our spine neutral we can prevent excessive damage!
“A fat belly” refers to engaging your diaphragm, a giant muscle in your midsection that promotes correct breathing and is a potent stabilizer of the torso. When standing, your diaphragm lies mostly parallel to the ground and divides the upper portion of your torso from the lower portion (separating rib cage from abdomen). As we properly breathe in, the diaphragm moves downward compressing our stomach, intestines, and other contents to make room for our lungs to expand and bring in more air. When we then hold our breath and place a heavy weight in our hands or on our shoulders we increase what is termed intra-abdominal pressure. This means the pressure in our abdomen increases and helps prevent our spine from moving.
If we breathe in properly our belly will expand (making it appear “fat”) because of intestines getting pushed by the diaphragm. If we then get “tight” when it is “fat” we can keep a deep breath which will stop our chest from dropping, give our shoulders a great platform to sit on and stop our low back from moving too much. “Wait, I thought I was supposed to suck my belly IN”… nope. When we say “get tight” we don”t mean “suck in” (i.e. moving the belly button towards the spine). We mean tight like you”re about to get punched in the gut. Now, we might also say “get fat” or “get a big belly”. This will help you visualize taking a deep breath in, engaging your belly to push outward, and then holding tight to prevent any motion.