The spine is a complex structure that requires a combination of stability and mobility. Abdominal bracing gives the spine the stability that it needs when we have to transmit force through it. This involves isometric stiffening of the abdominal muscles, meaning contracting the muscle without it moving. This stiffening creates a criss cross mesh of stabilizing muscles that steadies the spine in all directions. It doesn’t isolate muscles of the core, but rather engages all of the muscles in a global stiffening and bracing. To replicate this concept, stiffen your abdominal muscles as if you were about to get punched in the gut. This bracing is equivalent to the bracing of core stiffening.
Abdominal bracing allows us to transfer energy and power by inhibiting or reducing spinal motion, as well as protect the spine form injury. For example, during heavy lifting pr pushing, we instinctively stiffen the core in preparation for the exertion. Furthermore, when performing complex movements, such as a clean and jerk, squatting or even throwing a ball, there is a concert of muscle activation, inhibition and spinal stiffening that occurs in a coordinated sequence to transfer energy from the legs to the arms.
Professional athletes are masters at perfecting this coordinated movement for their specific sport. The timing of the bracing is extremely important, not only for performance, but to prevent injury. Imagine if you braced constantly. You wouldn’t be able to move, impeding performance. If a golfer braced through his entire golf swing, it would limit the amount of energy that is transferred from his core to the club.
By practicing these types of motions, you reinforce the reflexive stiffness and core bracing without conscious thought. Much like walking, by practicing core stiffening and using it effectively, over time it becomes natural and you no longer have to consciously think about stiffening the core.
Some functional exercises such as the clean and jerk, kettlebell swing and medicine ball throwing and catching focus on activating the core. It is especially important to use these training exercises to enhance core activation to maximize.
Abdominal bracing increases spinal stiffness and activates the protective muscle of the core to prevent injury. When training to use the core effectively, use exercises that equip you to subconsciously react to movements or perturbations and enhance the power with momentary core stiffening followed by slacking and relaxation.