Is it best to suck your stomach in while working out?


Bracing the core is an important part of working out. A proper brace protects the back,  allows you to transfer force more effectively, and train your core more effectively. 

Many Pilates and Yoga instructors often give the cue to "pull your navel to the spine" in order to engage the deep core muscles. 

Is this advice correct? Or could it be putting you at risk?

The “pull your navel to the spine” cue given by many Pilates and Yoga instructors is often not fully informed.

Learning to lock the rib cage on to the pelvis is essential for injury prevention and performance. But there is a difference between a proper abdominal brace, which activates all the muscles in the core and abdominal hollowing which describes the drawing in of the naval.

Here is an excerpt from renown low back expert and clinician Dr. Stuart McGill's textbook Low Back Disorders explaining this difference.

“When the contraction is performed, no geometric change at all occurs in the abdominal wall. In other words, rather than hollowing or drawing in the abdominal wall, the patient simply activates the muscles to make them firm and stiff. We call this contraction abdominal bracing”

“Abdominal bracing, which activates the three layers of the abdominal wall ( external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis) with no drawing in, is more effective than abdominal hollowing at enhancing spine stability”

Here are two images used to support that case.

Image #1 shows that the act of hollowing decreases the base of support creating less stability.

Hollowing .jpeg

Image #2 Below shows muscle activation measured using EMG of Hollowing vs Bracing. The chart clearly demonstrates that Bracing produces significantly more muscle activation than Hollowing.



Whether your ultimate goal is

  • to prevent injury by supporting your spine

  • improving performance through the use of a stiff core

  • The aesthetic development of the midsection

Abdominal Bracing is superior to abdominal hollowing.

More Information

If your interested in learning how to train your core and learn how to brace then continue reading at one of the articles below.

The first is How A Neutral Spine Can Help Save Your Back and Improve Your Performance which helps to teach how to activate your core properly during exercise and protect your back.

The 2nd is How To Train The Core For A Smaller Waist for how to structure your efforts to help tighten your waist.

For more information from Stu McGill visit his website at Back Pain Exercises, Injury Prevention & Rehabilitation -


Stephen GriffithComment