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Stop bracing…ENGAGE

In a fitness environment, the phrase, “engage your abs” is often used interchangeably with “brace your core”. As far as actions or intentions go, “engage” is quite different from “brace”, though. When we “engage”, we recruit the muscle for action; when we “brace”, we protect the body part from attack. Indeed, most would describe the sensation as, “Pretend you’re about to get punched in the stomach.” Maybe that’s fine for a fitness class, but maybe it’s not…and it’s certainly no way to live your life from a place of willPower.

When I engage my abs, it actually feels a bit different to me than if I were preparing to get punched…and perhaps that’s more a function of my poor fighting skills or lack of experience getting punched in the stomach! But, just for the sake of argument, if YOU were to brace against attack, what would happen to your breath, your posture, your emotion, your…stress levels?

Conversely, if you were to engage your abs, would you hunch over? No. Would you stop breathing? No. Would you become agitated or fearful? No. Would your stress levels elevate? No.

So, although the activity in your midsection may be similar between the two commands, the activity throughout the rest of your system would be different…as would the effect be on your willPower.

This week, as you contemplate the word, ENGAGE, think about the areas of your life where you are figuratively “bracing for a blow” to your dreams, your body, your life, or “to your mid-section” (conveniently where your solar plexus, chakra of willPower, is located…), instead of “engaging your core” for your dreams, your strength, your freedom, and, of course, your willPower.

Bonus: How do I know if I’m engaging my core?

Many people mistake engaging their core with “sucking in”. This actually creates the opposite effect of the desired one — which is to create rigidity and stability in the mid-section.

Here’s a technique to assess whether you are bracing properly, sufficiently, or excessively:

Place your hands on the bony parts at the front of your hips. Move your hands in an inch towards your belly button and down and inch towards your toes. You should now be directly over the transversus abdominus muscle.

As all the core muscles co-contract, when you feel your transversus contract the others will be contracting also. 

When you contract your core correctly you should feel a gentle tightening under your fingers when they are in the above position. If you feel a bulge you are contracting too much. The correct level of activity in core muscles should be 30% of their maximum so that they have enough energy to contract continuously. ~Sports Injury Clinic


Sarah Ingmanson

Sarah Ingmanson

Sarah is a studio owner, fitness instructor and competitor. She is a former investment banker and equity research analyst with her MBA from the Wharton School and her MA in International Affairs from the Lauder Institute of the University of Pennsylvania. Sarah is fluent in Japanese and consults with Japanese companies on corporate governance, finance, and investor relations. Sarah's interest in Japan stemmed from her first tour with Disney On Ice as a professional figure skater. For more info on Sarah and her studio, visit