I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “bring your belly button towards your spine”. This is a cue used for abdominal hollowing. Maybe you’ve heard the cue: “breathe into your belly and brace outward”. This is a cue used for abdominal bracing. I want to discuss the difference between the two and why it's time to be done with abdominal hollowing.
Abdominal hollowing or ‘tucking’ is a method of activating the abdominal muscles to emphasize the transverse abdominus (TvA). Why was this ever a thing? Research back in the ’90s found that the transverse abdominus was slow to activate in individuals with back pain. So, naturally, we began focusing on ways to increase the activation of this muscle. What's the best way to activate the transverse abdominus? Tucking or hollowing of the abdomen. Think: draw your belly button to your spine.
Now, you’re probably wondering why this is a bad thing. In the study, they found that the TvA was delayed in those with back pain. It still worked, but at a slower rate than those without back pain. What they failed to address was that each muscle they observed was delayed in those with back pain. There was actually an issue with all of the abdomen muscles, yet we solely focused on the TvA. This study has led to decades of focus on “bring your belly button to your spine”, and it's time to stop.
Why is this focus on TvA bad? The premise of focusing on one muscle over others leads way to the theory that you can isolate muscles. Fact: your body doesn't work in isolation so don't try to train it that way. Yes, you can try to activate different heads of your biceps or triceps, but there is no such thing as true isolation. Further research has found that it's actually normal for your body to recruit and relax the TvA depending on the movement and demands. The theory that TvA should be activated at all times actually goes against the purpose of the muscle. Being fixated on the use of one muscle draws the attention away from others such as rectus abdominus and the internal/external obliques. They are designed to work as a synergistic group to provide stability for your spine. If they’re meant to work together, all to achieve the same goal, why would you only want to use 1/4th of your capacity?
What's the alternative? Abdominal bracing. A term coined by Dr. Stu McGill. This method of abdominal bracing has been shown to actively incorporate all of the abdominal muscles to create spinal stability. In studies that compared the use of abdominal hollowing vs abdominal bracing, abdominal bracing was found superior in every way. Think of abdominal bracing as an outward movement of the stomach (the muscles, not the actual stomach). If you’ve ever worn a weightlifting belt, the cue you would use is to brace into the belt, which would generate an outward movement.
If you’re an #everdayathlete, then performance is important to you. So is your ability to train which means injury prevention is something you focus on. Abdominal bracing may just be the thing you need to increase your performance and decrease your risk of injury. If you have any questions on the topic of abdominal hollowing vs abdominal bracing let me know.