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Abdominal Bracing…Get More Activation!


Take Home Points

  1. Abdominal bracing encourages core strengthening during isolation.
  2. Once achieved, abdominal bracing requires progressing for further dynamic strength.


Core training is popular in every exercise realm.  Abdominal bracing is a controversial topic in core training, as many feel core bracing increases the intervertebral disc pressure. However, intervertebral disc pressure increases during all daily activities, dismissing the notion of adding any extra disc pressure.

Fitness professionals now have increasingly emphasized trunk stability exercises in sports conditioning programs. It is considered that greater trunk stability may have a positive effect in sports performance by providing a foundation for greater force production in the upper and lower extremities. Trunk muscles function in transferring torques and angular momentum during the performance of integrated kinetic chain activities, such as throwing or kicking (Maeo 2013). Weakness in the trunk musculature may disturb the transfer of torques and angular momentum, resulting in decreased performance. Recent research has summarized trunk stability in a sporting environment as the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis to allow optimum production, transfer, and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities. Specific training programs aimed at targeting the trunk stabilizing muscles are an important consideration not only for activities of daily living or rehabilitation of low back pain, but also for athletic performance (Maeo 2013).
Maeo (2013) quantified muscular activity levels during abdominal bracing with respect to muscle- and exercise-related differences. Ten healthy young adult men performed five static (abdominal bracing, abdominal hollowing, prone, side, and supine plank) and five dynamic (V- sits, curl-ups, sit-ups, and back extensions on the floor and on a bench) exercises. Surface electromyogram (EMG) activities of the rectus abdominis (RA), external oblique (EO), internal oblique (IO), and erector spinae (ES) muscles were recorded in each of the exercises. The EMG data were normalized to those obtained during maximal voluntary contraction of each muscle (% EMGmax). The % EMGmax value during abdominal bracing was significantly higher in IO (60%) than in the other muscles (RA: 18%, EO: 27%, ES: 19%). The % EMGmax values for RA, EO, and ES were significantly lower in the abdominal bracing than in some of the other exercises such as V-sits and sit-ups for RA and EO and back extensions for ES muscle. However, the % EMGmax value for IO during the abdominal bracing was significantly higher than those in most of the other exercises including dynamic ones such as curl-ups and sit-ups. These results suggest that abdominal bracing is one of the most effective techniques for inducing a higher activation in deep abdominal muscles, such as IO muscle, even compared to dynamic exercises involving trunk flexion/extension movements.
When performing the initial stage of spine-strengthening programs, participants should be instructed to become aware of motor patterns and to recruit muscles in isolation. These programs can then progress to functional positions and dynamic movements. It is also suggested that trunk stability training should range from isolated activation of the deep abdominal muscles, such as internal oblique or transversus abdominis, to lifting weights on uneven surfaces (Maeo 2013). This is due to the different functional roles of the muscles during specific exercise tasks. It is advised that exercises should be performed to activate the trunk musculature in all three planes and full ranges of motion for developing total spine stability (Maeo 2013). Trunk stabilization and trunk-strengthening programs that target the deep abdominal muscles are designed to improve motor control and strength of the trunk region. Abdominal bracing should be included in both rehabilitation and athletic training programs when the goal is to improve spine stability. It should be noted that abdominal bracing alone is not the best exercise for maximizing the activities of all the trunk muscles. Therefore, progressed core stability training is necessary for increasing core stability, then transitioning to dynamic core strength.
During personal training, boot camps, or sports training at COR, the first area we test on is trunk and core stability. COR provides individualized trunk and core exercises that we will teach to re-activate these weak muscles. COR personal training will you improve your overall core strength, endurance, stability. This combination helps prevent injuries and helps motor control.
  1. Maeo S, Takahashi T, Takai Y, Kanehisa H. Trunk muscle activities during abdominal bracing: comparison among muscles and exercises. J Sports Sci Med. 2013 Sep 1;12(3):467-74.
Written by Coach Chris