From the Vault: Abdominal Bracing

by Sep 9, 2020Injury Prevention, Preventative Exercises, Self Care, Strength Training

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Abdominal bracing

I strongly feel that bracing is one of the key missing elements in massage therapist body mechanics.

It is rarely taught in schools or by other professionals. . . which is why it is a huge part of self care. So why do we want to brace? What will it do for us? How do we even do it? How do we strengthen our abdomen?

All these questions and more will be answered in the above video!

Why brace? 

The main reason is to create abdominal pressure. This is your body’s built in defense mechanism to protect against harm. You can think of it as an organic weight lifting belt!

Bracing will help to:

  • Protect the spine from harmful uncommon micro-movements  
  • Protect the organs 
  • Put you in the most mechanically advantaged position to lift objects (granted your spine is neutral and in strongest position)

This last point is especially important because it is challenging to try and put yourself into spinal flexion when you are bracing properly.

How do you do it? 

Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart.

Use these two visual tricks to learn how it feels to effectively brace:

Thumbs on the Obliques Trick

Place both thumbs on either side of obliques, and push in enough so that pointer finger touches abdomen, about a half inch.

To brace effectively, push out thumbs at about 75% strength. Your pointer finger should now be a half inch off your abdomen.

Belt around belly button trick

Place a standard belt around belly button and fasten it so that you can stick the width of one finger in between the belt and abdomen.

Push out your abdomen to fill out the belt. The belt should be able to move, but be firmly supported by abdomen.

When to/when to not brace

You do not need to brace all of the time.

Proper posture should be used and maintained every day for common activities like sitting, standing, walking, etc.

Bracing should be mainly used for more strenuous activity like:

  • Deep pressure
  • Lifting and transporting table
  • Lifting limbs
  • Weightlifting/exercise

With these activities, 50-75% bracing strength can be used. Any more may cause a headiness type of feeling and should be avoided unless lifting maximal weight (like a powerlifter/bodybuilder).

How to strengthen abdominals and effectiveness of bracing

There are four main exercises that you can use to strengthen your trunk and abdomen and will all help to teach you how to properly brace in functional situations. Two of these exercises are within your member’s area (Check out the videos below).

Turkish get up

This exercise is one of my personal favorites, and I do them every single day. Among working your abdominals really well, they combine 3-4 different exercises to get your from the ground to standing.

Unbalanced Plank

The unbalanced nature of this exercise really teaches you how use your abdomen and surrounding trunk muscles to keep yourself stable with your spine in a neutral position.

Kettlebell/dumbbell swings

This is another great exercise that teaches you how to control your body and motion with ballistic type movements. Swings are a great example of more an intense, ballistic movement.

Here’s how to complete a repetition:

  • Bend knees slightly
  • Lower your torso with a hip hinge for 3 seconds
  • Once kettlebell or dumbbell is below level of knee, swing back up forcefully
  • Hold kettlebell/dumbbell at abdomen/chest height for a one-one-thousand count


Unilateral trunk rotation with band

This is a great exercise for the obliques that will help the strength of the trunk with side to side force.

How to complete a rep:

  • Tie band to a fixed object (pole, etc.) on the opposite side you want to work – right side of you if working left side of body
  • Hold band firmly with trunk fully rotate to opposite, as far as you can
  • Rotate trunk so that your arms are straight out in front of you
  • Complete 5 reps in this fashion, at the end, hold final rep at 10-15 seconds



There can be many things in life as a therapist that your spine will need protection from. You want to make sure that your abdomen has the necessary strength and intra-abdominal pressure to be able to protect your spine properly. 

In the above video, we covered:

  • That intra-abdominal pressure is the main reason why we want to brace. It protects the spine from harm
  • How to brace properly with the thumb in the obliques and the belt trick
  • When to brace, and when not to brace
  • The four exercises you’ll want to do to strengthen the effectiveness of bracing

Please give this a try today and comment below how it helps you!


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About Me

My name is Zack Mayfield and I am in the constant pursuit to help each and every therapist achieve strength, better self-care and longevity in their career!

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