Do not Brace Abs while Playing

If I hear one more person say that “I need core exercises in order to get better”, I’ll pull out all my hair …wait a minute I’m already bald!


As a profession, we went through a “core” phase over a decade ago and I am hoping that we have moved beyond that narrow belief that “core” strengthening cures everything. Although “core exercise prescription” has become big business for Pilates instructors, Yoga classes and personal trainers, the evidence is still lacking.

This study involved healthy young men and women who were asked to jump off a box and land with both feet onto a force plate. The testing took place in a lab setting where the subjects were attached to 3D motion analysis and EMG systems.

The subjects were sometimes asked to naturally jump off the box and at other times they were asked to do abdominal bracing (tighten their core and abs) before jumping.

…and this is what they found.


Result #1: Abdominal bracing resulted in significantly reduced knee and hip flexion upon landing

Result #2: Abdominal bracing actually increased peak vGRF (vertical Ground Reaction Force) during landing


Personal Comment: Having trunk strength and control is crucial for athletic performance, however consciously focusing on abdominal bracing during activity seems to reduce shock absorbency mechanisms and perhaps increasing the risk of lower extremity injuries.

Considering the fact the reduced hip and knee flexion and increased vGRF are both risk factors for ACL injuries, perhaps teaching abdominal bracing is not a wise thing to do during certain athletic activities.

So work out, stay strong, but during activities, stay relaxed and be fluid. Avoid tensing and bracing all the time, as it may be more harmful than good!

You may not believe me when I say this, but in my practice which consists primarily of patients with persistent back pain, I primarily advise my patients to STOP their specific core exercises.

It appears that so many people are so convinced that they need to do “core” that they’ve become obsessed about it and are constantly thinking about engaging their “core”.

They’ve been brainwashed to believe that if they stop engaging their “core” that their spine will suddenly crumble. What a terrible way to live; being in constant fear of hurting your back if you stop your abdominal bracing. What a terrible belief; assuming that your spine is so fragile, vulnerable and that it can fall apart so easily. What an awful belief; that you must maintain a rigid protective posture in constant fear of hurting yourself.

For a while the Australian group promoted gentle transverses abdominis drawing in exercises while Stuart McGill gave abdominal bracing exercises for curing back pain. So who was right? Neither!


“When you brace your spine, you compress it more and when you compress it more, you’re at risk of more pain”  Peter O’Sullivan, PT, PhD

I hope that PTs as a profession have moved past the obsession we’ve had with “core” exercises. If you still need convincing, search on Youtube for “Prof Peter O’Sullivan and Core Stability”, it is well worth your 10 minutes to watch this video and move beyond “core”!


Reference: Campbell A et al Abdominal Bracing Increases Ground Reaction Forces and Reduces Knee and Hip Flexion During Landing. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016 Mar 8:1-23.

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