Hollowing vs Bracing

by Rhonda Jarmuth

Hollowing vs Bracing

Pretty much all of us have experienced back pain at some point in our life or at least will. Without a doubt you’ve learned in order to deal with low back pain you need a strong core. But what does that really mean and how does sucking your belly in and doing a hundred crunches help? Really it doesn’t. A 6 pack does not equal a strong and stable core.

What is Core Stabilization?

It is the ability to contract the muscles surrounding the spine creating a stiffness. This stiffness won’t allow “energy leaks” during static and dynamic activities which ensures optimal power with minimal force loads on the spine.

Core Stabilization Techniques

1) Hollowing – drawing in the abdomen

abdominal hollowing

2) Bracing – widening the trunk. Not pulling in or pushing out, think of what you would do if someone was to punch you in the stomach.


So which one creates that ideal stiffness around the spine – bracing.

Hollowing was a technique developed in 1999 by a group of Australian scientists doing a study on muscle motor patterning following a back injury. This technique has it’s place and it’s best used in treatments with physiotherapists and for people dealing with a current injury.

To hollow during a workout would actually inhibit the potential for optimal stiffness because it only isolates the transverse abdominals. If you took a cardboard box on its side and loaded it from the top, the box would crumble. If an athlete drew in their stomach while attempting heavy lifts, they too would crumble. There is no mechanical rationale for hollowing to enhance stability.

Bracing is for those individuals not undergoing treatments from physio or uninjured people working to get stronger.

In a 2007 study done by Stuart McGill, PhD & S. G. Grenier it was found the brace technique improved stability by 32%. The transverse abdominals contributed 14% of stability to the brace pattern.

The takeway from this study shows that hollowing offers minimal stability to the core stability compared to the bracing technique.

Unless you have a back injury, do not perform isolation transverse (hollowing) exercises for core stability. (Crunches and Sit ups are a whole other realm of why nots). Go for exercises which involve bracing the whole stomach and include the obliques. Eg. Pallof Press, Farmer Walks, prone plank, side plank and supermans (birddogs) are a good start to developing a strong and stable core.

jack lalane pushupsjpg

Grenier, S.G & McGill S.M. 2007 Quantification of Lumbar Stability by Using 2 different abdominal activation strategies: hollowing vs full abdominal muscle contraction = bracing.

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