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Abdominal Bracing vs. Pulling Abs in Pilates Style

I need to talk a bit about the contradictory opinions about how to use your abs when doing an exercise that is not ab specific, like crunches. Some fitness trainers promote abdominal bracing to work your core and protect your back when doing things like lifting weights. Bracing is explained how you would hold your abs if you were "bracing" for a punch to your gut. Now as a Pilates instructor, there is no way I can sound impartial about this and I don’t like “bracing.” Here's why: In a worse case scenario it makes people push their abs out (not good for stabilizing the spine), as well as bear down on their pelvic floor (not good for your core), and at best it simply works the abs isometrically (doesn’t change their length) and does nothing to correct faulty posture.

I think it is much more beneficial and more supportive to work the abs by pulling the abs toward the spine in a kind of in and up fashion. This also helps to engage the pelvic floor, which believe it or not is part of the core. Often engaging the deep abs (aka the transverse abdominis or TVA) helps to correctly faulty posture and alignment as well as create a lift in the torso so essentially the torso is supporting itself decreasing the pressure on the joints in your lower body.

So you want to find your deep abs? Check out: The Skinny On: The Deep Abs.


johnplatero johnplatero 5 years
First of all, muscles don't "push." If you tighten, brace, contract, (it's all semantics) the abdominals they, like all muscles can only perform one action; shorten between their origin and insertion. That's it period! If I tighten my abdominals they shorten and no way can they "push out." Are you so delirious from your dogma that you can deny simple physics? Secondly, bracing is isometric, that's why it's called bracing! You wouldn't want to flex the spine when lifting a heavy weight, getting punched or having sex for that matter. Bear down on the pelvic core? You're kidding> Here's how it works...when you inhale your diaphram contract moving downward. This contraction along with the air in lungs becomes a pneumatic stabilizer to help support the spine. If you're trying to protect the spine then bearing down on the pelvic floor is exactly what you want to do.
Eric-Kenyon-RKC Eric-Kenyon-RKC 8 years
The pulling-the-navel-toward-the-spine idea came from a special therapy to re-activate an inactive TVA that was tested in 1997. The technique has since been misunderstood and applied out of context. All you have to do is test the technique against natural abdominal bracing and the issue is clear. By natural I mean the bracing that is done involuntarily by top athletes, young children and other people whose bodies work correctly without any training. We mortals can follow the lead of these bio-mechanically correct people in teaching our bodies to brace correctly. So no pushing out of the abs, and the pelvic floor is pulled up. Very simple to execute, because it is natural. After some amount of practice you never have to think about it again. That is because your body was programmed to do that, but somehow forgot, you just have to remind it. Not even one athlete of any stature pulls the navel toward the spine during training or competition, and no coach of any stature teaches it. This should tell us something. Most people do crunches wrong and for the wrong reasons. This makes any bracing issue almost meaningless, so I do not recommend crunches. See writing on this subject by Doctors Mel Siff, and Stuart McGill.
bellechic bellechic 9 years
Hmm... I have never been advised to brace...
retro-chic retro-chic 9 years
I think pulling in your belly button towards your spine is the best. I've been doing that religiously or about 7 months and noticed that my stomach permantly stays sucked in. I don't think it's good to brace.
ktacce ktacce 9 years
they always tell me in piyo to think of pushing my bellybutton to the floor, this one little tip helped me do way more effective crunches! i'm thinking this is the "up and in" fit is talking about - totally useful!
UrbanBohemian UrbanBohemian 9 years
I've notice it is completely different. In classic ab exercises, you tighten up those muscles, whereas in Pilates it's all about flattening them when you exhale and engage in an exercise. I'm finally realizing the differences after taking gym classes these days, as opposed to doing the routines on my own for years.
Anne-73 Anne-73 9 years
How is pulling "in and up" is any different from correct abdominal bracing? Obviously, abdominal bracing (being an isometric engagement) and dynamic movements are serving two different purposes. Bracing is not meant to take the place of other abdominal exercises--its purpose is to allow the person to maintain a position of "neutral spine", thereby reducing the risk of injury.
gooniette gooniette 9 years
i've never been told to brace my abs before doing crunches... who does that?
sarlafrock sarlafrock 9 years
this is confusing me... hmmm...
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