Nearly every coach or personal trainer worth their salt agrees that when lifting weights, it is important to learn good technique.
However, while it’s important to learn the correct set-up and movement pattern for each exercise, an often overlooked and vital part of the process is learning to brace your core.
Bracing your core is designed to create to stiffness in an area of the body that normally doesn’t require to be that stiff for everyday activities. However, when lifting heavy weights or weight overhead, creating stiffness in the trunk is essential for efficiently transferring force through the body and protecting your spine.
So, let’s look at what the core is and detail how to go about bracing your core.
The definition of what actually constitutes the core is widely debated, but essentially it is all the muscles that lie between the ribcage and your pelvis, not just those abs at the front.
However, there is one muscle within the core that plays a vital role in bracing and that is the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle largely responsible for breathing and without breathing correctly it is difficult to properly brace your core.
It should be noted, that bracing your core should not be confused with what is known as abdominal hollowing. This was a method popularised by physiotherapists and Pilates instructors. Abdominal hollowing can be described as “drawing your belly button to your spine”.
The prevalence of this method came about because studies showed that people with lower back injuries/pain often did not activate one of their main core muscles the transversus abdominus prior to movement.
This led to the mistaken assumption that the role of this muscle was crucial to providing spinal stability. Later research has now shown this method to have little merit and on its own it contributes little to spinal stability.
Largely, this is because when hollowing you can engage the deep core muscles, but you can’t engage the other core muscles at the same time. We should remember that during movement muscles are designed to work together, not in isolation, and we should train muscle motor patterns as we would use them in real life.
So, what does bracing entail then?
First off, you need to tighten your abdominal muscles. You do this the same way you would react if someone was going to punch you in the belly. When you are about to start the rep of your exercise, contract these muscles hard and then take a really deep breath, as if you are trying to breathe deep into your stomach.
This should now create enough tension in your core to enable an efficient transfer of force/load and create a stable spine. This needs to be repeated for every rep.
Bracing properly will help develop a strong core, a back that is less prone to injury and will improve your strength on all of your lifts.
Learning to do this effectively can take some practice, as any new skill does, but taking the time to learn how to brace really is worth the effort.