Pilates with Kierstin! Abdominal Bracing

Kierstin Elliott, Pilates Instructor

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What is it? Abdominal bracing is an activation of the core muscles that help provide support and stability for your trunk. This brace is commonly called upon in almost every single Pilates exercise and is essential for building tone within the deep and superficial layers of the core. Let me take you through two different scenarios where the core should naturally brace on its own.

Scenario one: Imagine kneeling on the floor with one foot forward and back toes tucked. Now if you were to lift the back knee two inches off the floor, how do you prep for that movement? I bet you would find yourself naturally bracing your core as a response to your body calling for additional stability to lift the back knee. Try it. If you do not feel the core engage naturally, it may take some deliberate asking from the brain to activate the core.

Scenario two: Imagine you tripped, but caught yourself! Chances are your whole body tenses up and your abs engage. Your body has to instinctively muster up as much stability as it can manage to prevent you from falling. This is another example of abdominal bracing.

One common question I get when introducing abdominal bracing to clients is, “How do I breathe when I’m bracing?” Don’t expect to get a full belly breath while under an abdominal brace, but do allow your abdomen to stretch and fluctuate a bit to accommodate to the task at hand. If the task is strenuous, strive to find a three-dimensional breath. Expand through the back of the ribs on your inhale. On the exhale while you exert the most force, start to knit your ribs together, draw your pubic bone up and gently pull navel toward spine (finding your brace). This will provide adequate support for your system. If you need prolonged stability throughout an exercise, your breath pattern may feel a bit short and more shallow than a full expansive breath.

Note from a PT

An abdominal brace is a useful tool for you to support your spine and pelvis during moments where you may have to lift something heavy, stabilize yourself from a jossle or bump, or to allow you the stability through your body for explosive athletic movements. That said, it is important not to grip constantly, that can invite a whole host of issues including pelvic floor dysfunction! A good abdominal brace is really like a seasoning. Think cilantro, it may be tasty in small doses on top of a burrito, but you certainly don’t want to eat a salad of it! We are often taught to grip because it pulls in our flab and men and women alike have been taught that “fluffiness” around the waste line is icky for some reason. But it is truly important for your health to let go when you are at rest.

Breathing under an abdominal brace directly impacts our intra-abdominal pressure which leads me to another common question I often get when asking clients to brace, “Is it safe for my pelvic floor?” Yes, bracing but not gripping is safe for your pelvic floor. In fact, not bracing for certain movements could lead to hernias, prolonged diastasis, or more severe pelvic floor issues. Learning the proper way to activate the various layers of your core and then coordinating that activation with proper breathing techniques will take you far; not only in functional daily movement, but in all of your active fitness dreams! If this peaks your interest, or you find it hard to find an abdominal brace on your own, schedule a session with me at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, and we’ll have some fun exploring abdominal bracing!

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