Being able to brace your core effectively is an important foundation of everyone’s training program. If you’re not bracing properly, you aren’t getting effective force transfer through your lifts and you’re not creating the stability required to be able to lift heavier loads safely.
Bracing is not just about flexing your abs. Bracing your core requires you to engage your entire trunk – abdominals, pelvic floor, diaphragm, and spinal erectors – to create the stability required to lift safely.
It also ensures an effective force transfer through your body to move the weight. If you’re trying to knock down a building, would you rather use a sledgehammer or a pool noodle? Because the sledgehammer is solid, it’s able to transfer the force you produce to the building to create an impact. The pool noodle is not going to be very useful at all. The same applies when you lift. You want to be the sledgehammer, not the pool noodle.
- Make sure your ribcage and pelvis are stacked on top of each other.
A lot of people, particularly women, spend a lot of their time with their pelvis anteriorly tilted; however, this puts you in an ‘open’ position with the ribcage flared and pelvis tilted. So you want to pull your rib cage down and your pelvis under so that they’re stacked.
- Breathe in before you start moving.
Take a deep belly breath and think about 360 degree expansion of your ribcage, belly and lower back. If you spend a lot of time taking shallow breaths into your chest, you might find it hard to breathe into your belly (this often happens with people who feel stressed for prolonged periods or even just by not paying attention to our breathing and stopping to take some deep breaths now and then). To practice this, lay down on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat. Put your hands on the side of your ribcage and take deep, slow breaths, trying to push into your hands as you breathe in.
- Hold your breath and contract your core muscles.
A good way to practice what this feels like is to take a deep breath and then try and breath out but block your throat with your tongue. You’ll feel tension in your mid-section and your pelvic floor will lift up – this is the tension you want to create when you go to brace for a lift.
- Hold your breath for the duration of the lift.
You want to have consistent tension in your core for the duration of the lift and if you breath out during the lift, you will lose your intra-abdominal pressure. So hold your breath until you finish the lift.
- Don’t bear down.
Ever heard of people getting haemorrhoids or pelvic floor injuries from pushing really hard during childbirth (or when they’re really constipated)? This is from bearing down – so don’t do that while you’re under load.
- Don’t breathe out during the lift.
This will alter the intra-abdominal pressure and can cause a change in position of your pelvis and movement of your spine, which is what bracing is trying to limit.
Being able to brace effectively ensures you’re able to lift and move heavy loads safely. We want to be able to lift for many years to come and learning how to do so safely is going to be key to longevity.