Updated: Feb 19
Bracing your core makes a huge difference when it comes to lifting heavy weights. It protects your lower back and makes your lift so much stronger. And it all comes down to how you breathe.
"TURN YOUR ABS ON"
Ever heard that one? Well if you haven't learned how to properly brace your core, then this cue isn't going to help you much.
FIRST STEP: UNDERSTAND PROPER BREATHING
The first thing we need to do is notice how you breathe. Most of us tend to breathe through our chest and upper body which isn't ideal as it causes us to retain tension in our shoulders, breathe more shallowly and creates tension. Proper breathing should come from the belly and this is called diaphragmatic breathing (watch any baby breathe and you will see this). Breathing starts in the nose and then moves to the stomach as your diaphragm contracts, the belly expands and your lungs fill with air. This is the most efficient way to breathe, and it in fact slows the heartbeat and release stress.
SECOND STEP: PRACTICE DIAPHRAGMATIC BREATHING
Lie on your back and place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly. Breathe in slowly through your nose filling your belly with air - the hand on your chest should stay still while the hand on your belly will rise. As you breathe out your stomach should return to its original position.
Here's a one minute cue to practice this in the upright position.
THIRD STEP: SET UP FOR LIFTING
Now to translate this to your lifts. In a standing position you want to shorten the distance between your ribcage and your hips to create a neutral spine (don't allow your back to arch) Next take a resistance band and tie it loosely under your ribs. Take a big breath into your stomach and push out against the band, and brace your stomach as if someone is going to punch you. This is your brace position. Watch a video on this here.
FOURTH STEP: APPLYING THE BRACE TO YOUR LIFTS
When lifting you want to adopt the brace position before you start the lift - for squats that is before you unrack the barbell. for deadlifts before lifting from the ground. Maintain this pressure though-out the entirety of the squat - if you lose it START A NEW REP! A question I commonly get is when to breathe OUT? You should breathe out at the easiest part of the lift - that is the second half of the upward movement in the squat and the lowering portion of the deadlift. For heavier lifts you should wait to release the breath in between reps - at the top of each squat, when resetting for the next deadlift.
Click here to buy resistance band.
If, and only IF, you are lifting more than your bodyweight you may want to think about investing in a lifting belt such as THIS or THIS. However, you don't want to start to rely on a belt in the early stages of your lifting career before you have learned how to brace effectively on your own. Master the brace first!