How to Do Abdominal Bracing: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do abdominal bracing to strengthen and stabilize your core, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

abdominal-bracing-hold

Abdominal bracing is one of those under-the-radar exercises that doesn’t seem like it would do much of, um, anything. (Aren’t you just kicking back on the floor?) And yet it’s a surprisingly effective way to strengthen your abdominal and back muscles, which can support more comfortable sitting and standing positions, reduce back pain, and improve your balance. And yes, you still get to do it lying down on the floor.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is Abdominal Bracing?

This exercise involves tensing the muscles in your core — as if you were bracing to be punched in the stomach — and holding the contraction. It’s a type of isometric exercise, meaning a static position that you hold for a period of time without moving. It works your muscles in a slightly different way than traditional resistance exercises, such as crunches, that require you to lift and lower, and they can be easier on your joints. 

What Muscles Does Abdominal Bracing Work? 

Abdominal bracing mainly targets these muscle groups:

  • Rectus abdominis, or what’s known as the “six-pack” muscle. The rectus abdominis enables you to bend forward at the waist, so you can do things like sit up in bed or pick up something from the floor. 

  • Transverse abdominis. This muscle lies deep within the core underneath your rectus abdominis. It runs parallel to your pelvis and wraps around your midsection to your back — acting like a corset, keeping your torso tight and strong. 

  • Internal and external obliques are abdominal muscles that are located on the sides of your waist. They allow you to rotate and twist your torso. 

  • Multifidus. These are muscles deep in your back that run along your vertebrae. Their main purpose is to stabilize your spine

  • Erector spinae help with back extension, rotation, and stabilization. They’re one of the most powerful muscles in your back and run along either side of your spine.

  • Quadratus lumborum (or QL) is a lower-back muscle that stretches from the back of your ribcage to your pelvis. It works with the multifidus and erector spinae to stabilize the spine. A strong QL has also been associated with reduced back pain.

  • Pelvic floor. This group of core muscles is located near your pelvis and are key for balance, stability, and flexibility.

Benefits of Abdominal Bracing

  • A stronger core, which supports all sorts of activities — from hiking to swimming to golf — and everyday tasks, such as lifting and carrying objects, and unloading the dishwasher. 

  • Better balance and stability that may reduce the risk of falls and injury. 

  • More comfortable posture. There’s no such thing as perfect posture. It’s a myth. The positions that feel good to you are unique to your body. That said, a strong core can help you maintain a comfortable upright position, whether you’re sitting at your desk pouring over spreadsheets or waiting in an endless checkout line. 

  • Lower blood pressure. Exercising regularly (any kind of activity) is known to help keep blood pressure in check, but research has shown that isometric strength moves are     particularly effective, although the reason why isn’t clear. A review of literature on the blood-pressure-reducing power of isometric exercise published in Clinical Hypertension found that even 17 minutes a week of moves like abdominal bracing could significantly lower blood pressure by 7 mmHg systolic, and 3 mmHg diastolic. The study authors note that reductions like this are associated with a 13% to 22% lower risk of major cardiovascular events. 

  • Less back pain. Improved core strength — through moves such as abdominal bracing — has been shown to reduce back pain and improve function. 

  • Eased arthritis symptoms. Isometric exercises, in particular, appear to be good for managing aches, pains, and stiffness related to arthritis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Moves like abdominal bracing can also help those with arthritis stay more active because they don’t require moving through a full range of motion (like you would doing a shoulder press or squat), which may be uncomfortable. Holding a static position gives you the benefit of strength training in a way that may feel better for your body if you are living with arthritis.

Abdominal Bracing: Exercises and Modifications 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Abdominal Bracing

Abdominal Bracing

Abdominal Bracing

Abdominal Bracing

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
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To do abdominal bracing:

  • Lie back on the floor, or a bed or couch, with your knees bent and feet flat.

  • Rest your arms by sides, palms down.  

  • Contract your ab muscles (imagine drawing your belly button toward your spine and holding it there).

  • Hold this contraction as you breathe slowly in and out.

  • Relax your muscles and return to the starting position.  

  • As you do each rep, you may feel the muscles in your core working.

Everyone is different, which is why you may need to modify this exercise to meet your needs. 

Abdominal Bracing Modifications

Abdominal Bracing Modifications

Abdominal Bracing Modifications

Abdominal Bracing Modifications

To make abdominal bracing easier:  

  • Limit how hard you squeeze your abdominal muscles.

To make abdominal bracing harder: 

  • As you squeeze your abdominal muscles, lift and extend one leg so it hovers just above the floor. Bend your knee and bring your foot back in, then repeat with the opposite leg.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Hinge Health is available to over 1,600 companies and benefit plans!

References

  1. Baffour-Awuah, Biggie, et al. (2023). An Evidence-Based Guide to the Efficacy and Safety of Isometric Resistance Training in Hypertension and Clinical Implications. Clinical Hypertension, vol. 29, no. 1. doi:10.1186/s40885-022-00232-3

  2. Slater, D., et al. (2019). “Sit up Straight”: Time to Re-Evaluate. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 49, no. 8, pp. 562–564. doi:10.2519/jospt.2019.0610

  3. Han Soo Park, et al. (2023). Effect of Adding Abdominal Bracing to Spinal Stabilization Exercise on Lumbar Lordosis Angle, Extensor Strength, Pain, and Function in Patients with Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain: A Prospective Randomized Pilot Study. Medicine, vol. 102, no. 41, pp. E35476–e35476. doi:10.1097/md.0000000000035476 

abdominal-bracing-hold

How to Do Abdominal Bracing: A Hinge Health Guide

Learn how to do abdominal bracing to strengthen and stabilize your core, plus modifications to make this exercise easier or harder.

Published Date: Nov 28, 2023
abdominal-bracing-hold

Abdominal bracing is one of those under-the-radar exercises that doesn’t seem like it would do much of, um, anything. (Aren’t you just kicking back on the floor?) And yet it’s a surprisingly effective way to strengthen your abdominal and back muscles, which can support more comfortable sitting and standing positions, reduce back pain, and improve your balance. And yes, you still get to do it lying down on the floor.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is Abdominal Bracing?

This exercise involves tensing the muscles in your core — as if you were bracing to be punched in the stomach — and holding the contraction. It’s a type of isometric exercise, meaning a static position that you hold for a period of time without moving. It works your muscles in a slightly different way than traditional resistance exercises, such as crunches, that require you to lift and lower, and they can be easier on your joints. 

What Muscles Does Abdominal Bracing Work? 

Abdominal bracing mainly targets these muscle groups:

  • Rectus abdominis, or what’s known as the “six-pack” muscle. The rectus abdominis enables you to bend forward at the waist, so you can do things like sit up in bed or pick up something from the floor. 

  • Transverse abdominis. This muscle lies deep within the core underneath your rectus abdominis. It runs parallel to your pelvis and wraps around your midsection to your back — acting like a corset, keeping your torso tight and strong. 

  • Internal and external obliques are abdominal muscles that are located on the sides of your waist. They allow you to rotate and twist your torso. 

  • Multifidus. These are muscles deep in your back that run along your vertebrae. Their main purpose is to stabilize your spine

  • Erector spinae help with back extension, rotation, and stabilization. They’re one of the most powerful muscles in your back and run along either side of your spine.

  • Quadratus lumborum (or QL) is a lower-back muscle that stretches from the back of your ribcage to your pelvis. It works with the multifidus and erector spinae to stabilize the spine. A strong QL has also been associated with reduced back pain.

  • Pelvic floor. This group of core muscles is located near your pelvis and are key for balance, stability, and flexibility.

Benefits of Abdominal Bracing

  • A stronger core, which supports all sorts of activities — from hiking to swimming to golf — and everyday tasks, such as lifting and carrying objects, and unloading the dishwasher. 

  • Better balance and stability that may reduce the risk of falls and injury. 

  • More comfortable posture. There’s no such thing as perfect posture. It’s a myth. The positions that feel good to you are unique to your body. That said, a strong core can help you maintain a comfortable upright position, whether you’re sitting at your desk pouring over spreadsheets or waiting in an endless checkout line. 

  • Lower blood pressure. Exercising regularly (any kind of activity) is known to help keep blood pressure in check, but research has shown that isometric strength moves are     particularly effective, although the reason why isn’t clear. A review of literature on the blood-pressure-reducing power of isometric exercise published in Clinical Hypertension found that even 17 minutes a week of moves like abdominal bracing could significantly lower blood pressure by 7 mmHg systolic, and 3 mmHg diastolic. The study authors note that reductions like this are associated with a 13% to 22% lower risk of major cardiovascular events. 

  • Less back pain. Improved core strength — through moves such as abdominal bracing — has been shown to reduce back pain and improve function. 

  • Eased arthritis symptoms. Isometric exercises, in particular, appear to be good for managing aches, pains, and stiffness related to arthritis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Moves like abdominal bracing can also help those with arthritis stay more active because they don’t require moving through a full range of motion (like you would doing a shoulder press or squat), which may be uncomfortable. Holding a static position gives you the benefit of strength training in a way that may feel better for your body if you are living with arthritis.

Abdominal Bracing: Exercises and Modifications 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Abdominal Bracing

Abdominal Bracing

Abdominal Bracing

Abdominal Bracing

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
Start your app tour

To do abdominal bracing:

  • Lie back on the floor, or a bed or couch, with your knees bent and feet flat.

  • Rest your arms by sides, palms down.  

  • Contract your ab muscles (imagine drawing your belly button toward your spine and holding it there).

  • Hold this contraction as you breathe slowly in and out.

  • Relax your muscles and return to the starting position.  

  • As you do each rep, you may feel the muscles in your core working.

Everyone is different, which is why you may need to modify this exercise to meet your needs. 

Abdominal Bracing Modifications

Abdominal Bracing Modifications

Abdominal Bracing Modifications

Abdominal Bracing Modifications

To make abdominal bracing easier:  

  • Limit how hard you squeeze your abdominal muscles.

To make abdominal bracing harder: 

  • As you squeeze your abdominal muscles, lift and extend one leg so it hovers just above the floor. Bend your knee and bring your foot back in, then repeat with the opposite leg.

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. 

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.  

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. 

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Hinge Health is available to over 1,600 companies and benefit plans!

References

  1. Baffour-Awuah, Biggie, et al. (2023). An Evidence-Based Guide to the Efficacy and Safety of Isometric Resistance Training in Hypertension and Clinical Implications. Clinical Hypertension, vol. 29, no. 1. doi:10.1186/s40885-022-00232-3

  2. Slater, D., et al. (2019). “Sit up Straight”: Time to Re-Evaluate. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, vol. 49, no. 8, pp. 562–564. doi:10.2519/jospt.2019.0610

  3. Han Soo Park, et al. (2023). Effect of Adding Abdominal Bracing to Spinal Stabilization Exercise on Lumbar Lordosis Angle, Extensor Strength, Pain, and Function in Patients with Non-Specific Chronic Low Back Pain: A Prospective Randomized Pilot Study. Medicine, vol. 102, no. 41, pp. E35476–e35476. doi:10.1097/md.0000000000035476