The ability to brace or create stiffness in the trunk is something inherently necessary for any normal human function. Unfortunately, for many in pain creating trunk stiffness is something never addressed. A recent study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology looked into the effects of bracing and if training the ability to do so would show any increase in strength, power, Intra-abdominal pressure, and muscle thickness in the trunk and lower body. Before jumping straight into it, let’s define what bracing is: Bracing is a way to encourage activation of ALL of the components of the abdominal wall — which has shown to immediately reduce pain in many cases (Ikeda and McGill, 2012).
The outcomes for the 8 week study were pretty impressive and included increases in: trunk extension force (14.4%), hip extension torque (34.7%), maximal sit to stand power output (15.6%), abdominal muscle thickness of the internal oblique (22.4%), intra-abdominal pressure (36.8%).
The intervention utilized in the study was a maximal abdominal brace in a neutral spine seated position. Contractions were maintained for two seconds, followed by a two second relaxation. Five sets of ten repetitions were performed three days per week for 8 weeks.
Activation of the entire lumbar-pelvic musculature without modification of the abdominal circumference. When you produce activation, the muscles must press outward fingers positioned as in the photo (McGill 2016).
Did you ever think that learning to generate tension could actually inhibit your pain and make you stronger?
Tension generation and strength play significant roles in rehabilitative and strength training circles. I would typically program an exercise intervention like this in a rehab setting. One variation that I love is the Lewit..
The goal with any intervention like this is to progress the ability to generate necessary tension by manipulating the environment or postural demands.
Now, learning to brace and generate tension does not mean you need to walk around all day long crushing yourself! Learn what it is and how it should be applied. “The abdominal brace ensures sufficient stability using the oblique cross-bracing, although high levels of cocontraction are rarely required — usually about 5-10% of maximum voluntary contraction levels of the abdominal wall during daily activities are sufficient. The patient must match the level of contraction to the needed stability — there is no need to crush the spine with overcontraction.” (McGill, 2016)