In addition to flexing your spine forward, your abdominals also contract to create intra-abdominal pressure in a maneuver called bracing. Your core muscles, which consist of your rectus abdominus, obliques, transverse abdominus and erector spinea, draw in and around your internal organs like a girdle to create pressure within your abdominal cavity; this helps to support your spine from within. Bracing exercises generally involve no movement of the spine. There are a number of exercises that you can perform to challenge your ability to brace.
To perform a plank, kneel down and place your forearms on the floor. Your hands should be flat on the floor and your elbows beneath your shoulders. Walk your feet back so that your body is aligned. Your shoulders, hips and knees should form a straight line when viewed from the side. Keep your abdominals tight and hold this position for as long as possible while making sure that you don’t hold your breath and your lower back doesn’t sag. You can also perform this exercise with your arms extended as in the push-up position.
Cable Chest Presses
Stand using a staggered stance between two exercise cables set to chest-height. Hold a handle in each hand. With the handles held at chest height with your arms bent, walk forward sufficiently far so that the cables are tensioned. Keeping your midsection braced so that your body remains upright, push your arms forwards as if you were performing a push-up. Slowly bend your arms to return to the starting position and repeat. You can make this exercise more challenging by placing your feet closer together or only using one handle so that that you have to resist rotation and extension at the same time.
Swiss Ball Mountain Climbers
Place your hands on either side of the apex of a Swiss ball. Keeping your arms straight, walk your feet back so that you are in a push-up position. While maintaining braced abs, alternately pull one knee and then the other onto your chest. Try to keep your spine fixed in position and avoid dropping your hips or holding your breath.
Lie on your back with your legs bent to 90 degrees at the hip and knee, with your arms extended up toward the ceiling. Keeping your abdominals braced and your lower back fixed in position, extend your left leg outward and right arm overhead toward the floor. Hold this extended position for a second before slowly returning to the starting position and repeating with your left arm and right leg. For a greater challenge, hold a medicine ball or dumbbell in your hands and extend both arms together as you alternate legs.
Kneel on all fours—your shoulders should be over your hands and your hips over your knees so that you form a box shape. Make sure your lower back is slightly arched and your chest and head are up. Brace your abdominals and extend your left arm forward and leg arm backward. Hold this position for a second before lowering your arm and leg and repeat. Perform all your reps for one side before changing sides.
About this Author
Patrick Dale is an experienced writer who has written for a plethora of international publications. Also a lecturer and trainer of trainers, he is a major contributor for Ultra-FIT magazine and has been involved in fitness for over 22 years. Other than a five-year service in the Royal Marines, Dale has always worked in health and fitness and never intends to leave.