Have you ever noticed when performing an upper-body exercise—such as the Overhead Press—that your ribcage protrudes out? It may not seem terribly concerning, but it's actually limiting your strength and putting stress on your spine.
According to world-renown spine biomechanist Dr. Stuart McGill, this is caused by weak inner oblique muscles, which the exercises in your current core routine may not be engaging.
The solution seems obvious: perform inner oblique muscle exercises. But it's not that simple. These muscles are difficult to work—unless you vomit, which is obviously not ideal. Dr. McGill and his team at the University of Waterloo sought to discover the best corrective exercise to fix this issue. Enter The Lewit.
What the heck is "The Lewit"?
Named after Czech neurologist Dr. Karel Lewit, who pioneered the movement, The Lewit "is the best replication of the vomiting mechanism," explains Dr. McGill. So in theory, it engages your inner oblique muscles, which keep your rib cage down.
Here's how to do it: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Bend your hips and knees to a 90-degree angle. Maintain a naturally arched back. Slightly rock your pelvis forward and backward on your tailbone to fine-tune your back position. Once you're comfortable, take three normal breaths. Exhale normally on your third breath, then purse your lips and push any remaining air out of your lungs. Reset by rocking your pelvis and repeat the breathing pattern.
But does it actually work?
According to Dr. McGill's research, the Lewit was the most effective technique for engaging the inner obliques. It elicited a 54.4 percent activation, compared to a 33.9 percent activation for a hollowing technique (i.e., sucking your belly button toward your back) and 35 percent activation for a bracing technique (i.e., tightening your abs). Plus, it allows you to maintain the natural curve of your spine, eliminating stress on your back.
Should I perform The Lewit?
Maybe. If you can perform strength exercises with a compact ribcage, there's no need. However, if you notice your chest growing when you perform strength movements, The Lewit should be part of your daily routine.
But remember, this is a corrective exercise. "You're not using this to get strong, but to establish a motor pattern," adds Dr. McGill. So, only perform two to three cycles of the exercise per session.
For more information on spinal health, check out Dr. McGill's book, Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance.
Boyd, B., Andersen, J., & McGill, S. (2014). "Exercises to activate the deeper abdominal wall muscles: The Lewit." Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(3), 856-860.
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