For years, I learned (and taught) abdominal hollowing techniques to create a supportive core. With abdominal hollowing, you contract your front belly muscles (rectus abdominus and transverse abdominus) to draw the belly in towards the spine. I first got a hint of there being another option while I was on a cruise a few years ago. Incredibly, the ship had a deep pool that allowed one of the evening shows to be a high diving act. I was struck when noticing that the lead diver was very thick in the midsection. He wasn’t fat, but his body wasn’t long and lithe like most swimmers. Also, I noticed that just before he would take these death-defying leaps he would breathe in and expand his midsection, rather than hollow it out. It was the exact opposite of what I would think you’d do to set your core for a big jump. It wasn’t until last year that I came across an article that described exactly what he was doing: abdominal bracing.
Research comparing abdominal hollowing vs. abdominal bracing suggests that sucking in the gut with strong abdominal engagement can actually decrease core stabilization. The act of hollowing creates an oblique position of the diaphragm and pelvic floor, increases lumbar lordosis (the archiness of your lumbar spine) and stresses the psoas.
In abdominal bracing, you start by inhaling to engage the diaphragm, which pushes down into the abdominal cavity. You then counter the downward diaphragmatic pressure by lifting the pelvic floor, and then add a moderate contraction of the entire abdominal wall, including front belly, side belly and low back. The key muscles of the abdominal wall are the obliques, transverse abdominus, rectus abdominis, spinal erectors and lats.
Together these actions create Intra Abdominal Pressure that acts like an air-filled mattress to stabilize your lower back.
I’ve been amazed by how beneficial abdominal bracing has been in reducing my own back pain caused by a lumbar herniation. It’s helped me heal and feel stronger in bending, stooping, and lifting. My back also feels happier in yoga poses that put a load on the low back.
As those of you in my yoga classes this year have noticed, I have been frequently cueing abdominal bracing. For those of you who haven’t had a taste of it yet or would like to practice more, I’m including a link here to a Zoom class that will teach you how to engage and feel your abdominal brace.
So many of us deal with chronic low back pain and are familiar with the mood and thinking disturbances it can cause. Abdominal bracing has been a real revelation to me, and so different than what I have used in the past, that I felt it warranted a feature in this newsletter.
Here’s to your healthy and happy back.