T Nation

Bracing the Abs


How should I be doing this? (before lifts like deads and squats)

I've read a lot of different techniques in articles, just wanted to see what the majority of big guys actually do


I'm not a big guy, but I brace my abs as if I'm preparing to get hit in the stomach. I flex my abs and obliques.


As I see it, if you want to brace the abs, you have basically two options. One is to suck in your gut and contract the abs like you're trying to impress someone at the beach. This is a bad idea. The other option is the Valsalva maneuver - lower the diaphragm while breathing in (belly breathe) and close your airway. This is the way to go. There is a nice example - imagine you are pushing your car (out of an intersection, say, so you have an interest in doing so quickly and efficiently). Instinctively, you'll probably take one deep breath (expanding your abdomen) and strain against this for optimal stability. Anyways, try both, you should feel the difference immediately.


What is the reasoning behind this being a bad idea?

Can't a hernia happen from this?
Breath out of lifting portion, breath in on lowering portion. Just my opinion.


If you have a hernia it will manifest itself anyways. ALL the strong people I know use valsalva, whether they know what it's called or not.


I Have been taught and have been taking a very deep breath pushing it into my stomach. when you take the breath try not to let too much air into your chest you want it in your belly. Try to get the air as low as it can go. almost strain like your trying to take a very big shit.

Another way to think about it that might help is to try to push your stomach out as far as possible like your trying to look pregnant. then flex your abs as hard as possible like your about to get hit in the stomach very hard.

Think about the problems of bracing while sucking in your stomach. if you have a building with a large top and a large bottom. what do you think would be a stronger structure if the middle is the same size or if they made it with a very narrow middle few floors. sorry bad explanation but you get the idea. think of a rectangle big belly air or of two triangles with point to point for when you draw your belly low.

There are benefits to the flat stomach idea. usually it will help someone to learn to activate the TVA. Many Physical therapists use it to help people relearn the motor patter. Many of us who train though do not need to re-learn the motor pattern unless there is an injury. So really the benefits of a big air belly are being able to move heavier weight while bracing the lower back and abs. the benefit of the "vacuum" stomach is really more of a learning and activation technique.

Hope that helps maybe someone with more knowledge can help out if I misinterpreted or didn't explain that that well.



Ben, great post. I couldn't put it any better, but I did remember some stuff by Stuart McGill (he talks about abdominal bracing in the context of "super stiffness"). He uses the analogy of a ship's mast:

"The spine under compressive load will buckle under very low loads and you need muscles to stabilize itâ??bracing does this. People have used the analogy of guide wires on a shipâ??s mastâ??itâ??s very aptâ??to prevent unstable behavior.

You may have heard about transverse abdominus and multifidus as being very important stabilizers of the spine. Iâ??m afraid that if thatâ??s whatâ??s being used to create stability you wonâ??t create much stability at allâ??you need all the muscles.

Not only will the spine buckle, but it can become unstable in shear. The criss-crossing action of the obliques, for example, anchored on rectus abdominus, means that you have to not only fire up transverse but also the obliques and also rectus.

An abdominal brace is where you tense all the abdominal muscles, but you do not suck the navel towards the spine. You can once again use the analogy of the rigging of a shipâ??s mastâ??if you move the rigging closer to the mast it actually buckles at a lower load, and if you can move the guide wires out away from the mast you get much more stability.

The classic weight lifters like Vasily Alexiev didnâ??t have a nice hollowed abdomenâ??in fact he had enormous stability that came from the distances of those strong guide wires, to give a graphic example."

Now, while the Valsalva maneuver can certainly cause a hernia to protrude, I'm not sure about causing it directly. In any case, I would rather have an abdominal wall hernia from Valsalva than a herniated disc from neglecting Valsalva. As far as breathing goes, if you have to breathe, do so while maintaining the brace.

Here's some of McGill's writing you may want to check out. I haven't read his books yet, but I'm sure they're worth looking into:


Lack of support. Imagine trying to bend a blow up sex doll. Would it be harder to bend it if it was filled with air (pressure is at a maximum) or with little air in it?

By inhaling a near maximum amount of air, your stomach/belly, sides and back will swell up due to the increasing space the lungs and diaphragm will be taking. This creates a sort of tension. Like trying to crush a balloon. The air is pushing outwards and causes bending of the core more difficult.

Also the muscles are stretched more and when you contract them, this causes them to tense up more. All of this combined effectively acts like a brace or belt.
This offers much more stability since the core is taut.

Now imagine sucking in your stomach. We just concluded that taking in more air would increase the pressure on the muscle wall due to the expanding lungs and diaphragm. So by sucking in your stomach, there has to be less air in your lungs. Hence less room is taken up.

Basically deflating a balloon. This means a lack of pressure and "tightness" since everything isn't stretched out due to inner pressure. The core would not have as much rigidity and stability...consequently :stuck_out_tongue: Your "belt" would basically be too loose and not offer enough protection.

You would be more susceptible to bending and other such unwanted movements. During dead lifts or squats, where you want your core to be as rigid as a steel rod, this is not desirable.

That's the jist of it. I hope i was clear enough in my explanation.


I was also wondering about this as well. I have had personal trainers and a physical therapist say to pull the abdominals towards the spine during exercise to brace the abs and engage the core. My PT has told me to of course maintain breathing but to "pull belly button towards your spine and hold throughout movement". Ive been doing this for every exercise.


Just before the lift i purse my lips and breath out hard which i find tightens my core well.