Imagine the scene: the beach on a glorious summer day, row after row of sunbathers, a group of slightly overweight older gentlemen lounging about. In the distance, a beautiful woman approaches in a tiny bikini. As one, the males suck in their guts and their postures suddenly improve while the oblivious woman makes her way past the group of men. Once she’s gone by, potbellies return and postures slump. This is abdominal hollowing.
Now imagine another scene: a rowdy party that keeps getting wilder, to the point where 2 guys decide to see who has the stronger abs by punching each other in the gut (told you it was getting rowdy). Guy#1 is super prepared, tensing his abs like he’s competing in a Mr. Universe pageant. Guy#2 winds up and releases a punch into the first guy’s abs, bouncing off harmlessly because Guy#1 was ready for the punch. Before Guy#2 has a chance to prepare himself, Guy#1 sneak attack punches the Guy#2 in the stomach, which (due to the fact that he wasn’t prepared for the blow) causes Guy#2 to crumple to the floor in agony. What Guy#1 did (and Guy#2 didn’t have time for) is abdominal bracing.
Abdominal bracing helps to strengthen the low back and core and creates a corset-like reaction around your spine. This decreases stressors on the joints and disc tissues, while increasing stability. Simply performing abdominal hollowing (the pre-cursor to the concept of abdominal bracing), doesn’t activate the entire muscular cage in your lower torso and can actually create an uneven stress on the spine. Not activating any abdominal muscles, however, can leave you weak and unprepared for stressors to the spine (think about Guy#2 hurting from the sneak attack punch).
A great way to begin training yourself with abdominal bracing is to follow these steps:
1: Start by lying down on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
2: Place your palms on your belly to better monitor your actions.
3: Contract your abdominal muscles, not only bringing your navel in towards the spine, but tensing ALL of your stomach muscles like someone is gearing up to punch you in the gut.
4: Hold for a few seconds and then release the tension.
5: Repeat the process 5-10 times.
While you’re performing these steps, envision that your muscles are a belt that’s tightening around your entire lower torso. Please also keep breathing while abdominal bracing!
You should be able to differentiate between abdominal bracing and abdominal hollowing while on your back. Try it—with your hands on your stomach, simply bring the navel in towards the spine. Now relax your muscles and this time, envision someone about to punch you in the gut. You should notice that with bracing, your entire stomach tenses up vs a localized area with hollowing.
Once you’ve become familiar with abdominal bracing, start doing it throughout the day in your normal routine. When you’re sitting at your desk, BRACE. When you’re standing in line at the grocery store, BRACE. When you’re brushing your teeth at night, BRACE. Eventually, with enough training and diligence, abdominal bracing can become an unconscious habit that protects your spine throughout the day.