Abdominal Bracing: Favorite Way to Engage the Core

There are lots of ways to engage your “core.” In this post we are going to discuss our favorite method that we show our runners working on strength training, as well as our patients with low back/hip/pelvic pain. A stronger core helps to keep our spine stable (when we want stability) as well as improve our power transfer from our upper body to/from our lower body.

First off, we need to define our core. There are varied definitions out there depending on where you look. For our purposes, we are defining it as all of the muscles between your ribcage and your pelvis.

There are 2 popular techniques to engage the core: abdominal hollowing and abdominal bracing.

In abdominal hollowing, the cues are often to “draw your belly button to your spine” with the goal of specifically activating the transverse abdominus muscle.

Within our core there are multiple layers of muscles on all sides of our body. If our goal is to make our spine as stable as possible - why would we target just a single muscle?

This presents the main goal of abdominal bracing: engage as many of your core muscles as possible for the greatest stability. These include the transverse abdominus & rectus abdominus in the front, the internal & external obliques on the sides, and our back muscles such as the erector spinae and multifidi.

I’ve tried teaching both methods to numerous patients - as they both had previously been taught to me. I’ve had a lot more success teaching people the abdominal bracing method - and I think it is clear as to why!

Watch the video below where I show you how to perform abdominal bracing. This can then be applied to your strength training and whenever you are lifting something throughout your day, as well as with transitional movements (like getting out of bed, in and out of the car, standing/sitting) if you are having low back/hip/pelvic pain. These are the main times when we want our spine to be as stable as possible.

If the cue in the video (saying “pssst!”) doesn’t come easily, try imagining that you are about to be punched in the stomach - without holding your breath.

Once you think you’ve got abdominal bracing down - go ahead and give it a try while you are performing some of our favorite core stability exercises:

Hopefully you find this helpful & can start to incorporate this technique into your strength training as well as your daily life!


Dr. Kelton Cullenberg, PT, DPT

Cullenberg Physical Therapy and Performance