Breath holding Vs. Sucking in for Stabilization

by Dr Mel C Siff

Breath holding is a reflex action meant to stabilise the body or to enable it to produce maximal force or power under heavily loaded or suddenly imposed stress.

There have been numerous claims that sucking in the abs or deliberately trying to activate the transversus abdominis (TA) muscle is the best way of stabilising the trunk during all activities. While one can voluntarily control muscles during the initial phases of an exercise or during very slow manoeuvres, it is not possible to do so under dynamic conditions, such as encountered in the later stages of lifting or in any complex sporting actions. In fact, any attempts to do so may profoundly disrupt your movement patterns, as has been pointed out for many years in the form of this aphorism: 'paralysis by analysis'.

Another anatomical principle should be remembered in this regard, namely "The body knows of movements not muscles", so that any attempt to deliberately alter patterns of muscle activation during dynamic movement in a person who is not exhibiting any neuromuscular pathology may instill faulty patterns, timings and rates of muscle synergism.

Note that all or most advice on ab 'sucking in' and TA recruitment has been extrapolated from the world of 'average' folk and not elite athletes, least of all any type of competitive lifter, few or none of whom would ever consider sucking in abs or trying to activate TA during the dynamic or explosive phases of the lifts, because these unproven actions could cause spinal injury.