|Embrace,... ah pardon, I meant brace your abs! Brace your abs and make the six packs shine through.|
"How's that and what exactly is abdominal bracing?"
Now that I have gotten your full attention, it is probably about time to explain what exactly abdominal bracing is. Actually it is nothing else than a static contraction of the musculature. The same thing you would do, when I told you that I was about to punch you right into the stomach. You tighten your abdominal muscles as much as possible and wait for the impact (video). If you do have abs, you will probably be doing something similar while you are doing crunches or any other ab-exercise lying on your back to make sure that your lower back is pressed into the ground all the time (in case you are not ding that it is no wonder you don't see your abs, despite having a low body fat %, by the way).
|Figure 1: % EMGmax values in each muscle during abdominal bracing (Maeo. 2013; image on the left Wikipedia)|
- Trunk extension
- Back extensions on the floor
- Back extensions on the back
- Abdominal hollowing (video)
- Prone Planks
- Lateral Planks
- Supine Planks
- Trunk flexion
- Trunk lateral flexion
|Figure 1: EMG-max values for rectus abd., external oblique, internal oblique, erectors spinae (Maeo. 2013)|
"[...] the % EMGmax value for IO during the abdominal bracing was significantly higher than those in most of the other exercises including dynamic ones such as curl-ups and sit-ups."Consequently, abdominal bracing (but also hollowing) is one of the "most effective techniques for inducing a higher activation in deep abdominal muscles, such as IO muscle" (Maeo. 2013) and an underdeveloped "deep" abdominal musculature is much more likely to be the underlying reason that you are lean and still don't see abs, than a generally underdeveloped midsection.
|Suggested read: "Shoulder Presses Ain't for Delts, Only!" (read more)|
And don't forget, even if you don't do it as a standalone movement, you better "brace yourself", when you are doing your sit-ups, crunches and all the rest of the exercises people are wasting their time on, because they don't brace, or rather press their back firmly into the ground, when they are fidgeting around for hours. That being said, you may remember the post about the "ab-building effects" of shoulder presses, take a look at Flex Wheeler over there to the right. If he did not brace his abs he would break his back (the position he is in is still 100% suboptimal).
- Maeo S, Takahashi T, Takai T, Kanehisa H. Trunk Muscle Activities during Abdominal Bracing: Comparison among Muscles and Exercises. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 2013 [ahead of print]