By Emma Garrett, Physiotherapist and Olympic Weightlifter
Bracing is the ability to keep tension throughout your core so you protect your spine and muscles in the back, neck etc during lifts.
Bracing the core while weightlifting can be a challenging skill to learn and is something that is generally not explained in great detail. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of high quality evidence out there on medical databases on the most effective way to brace, and the majority of information is anecdotal and may vary slightly according to who you ask. I’ll explain some of the variations and some of the common themes to allow you to decide what may be best for your lifting and training style.
What are the core muscles?
Bracing while weightlifting is more than just your abdominal muscles, but rather all the surrounding musculature at the top, bottom, and around the sides of your abdomen, similar to a cube. Altogether, here’s a list of the main muscles used during bracing:
internal and external obliques
deep hip flexors (iliopsoas)
So how do you brace?
First of all, diaphragmatic breathing is important. What this means is breathing down past your throat and chest, and breathing down into your stomach. Avoid doing a shallow breath just into your chest and shoulders.
From there, brace like you’re about to be punched in the stomach. This is more of a pushing action than a pulling action, where the stomach and rib cage are expanding outwards. The ribcage should be down and the pelvis stacked, avoid overly arching your lower back in the position. This will help create intra-abdominal pressure, which is how much pressure is within the abdominal cavity. It is generally thought that higher pressure increases stability and reduces load on the spine during lifting, likely preventing injuries.
This pressure should be maintained throughout as much of the movement as possible. Some people recommend to exhale on the exertion, such as the accent of a squat, and others prefer not to. Exhaling on the exertion by releasing a small amount of air, while still maintaining trunk stability, can reduce feelings of light-headedness and dizziness during lifting by causing the diaphragm to elevate.
Excessive breath-holding on exertion increases intra-abdominal pressure, where the diaphragm pushes down onto abdominal organs which can have a negative impact on the pelvic floor, leading to leaking during heavy lifts. Additionally, prolonged breath-holding can lead to stimulation of the vagus nerve, leading to a reduced heart rate and feelings of lightheadedness during a heavy lift.
Effective core exercises for weightlifting
These core exercises will help you brace more effectively.
Deadbug: Set up with the lower back flat on the floor, alternate arm and leg movements, and remain slow and controlled throughout the movement.
Plank: Set up with elbows underneath the shoulders, core tight, hips level, and maintain breathing throughout the movement.
Hollow hold: Set up with the lower back flat on the floor, legs together, feet pointed, arms overhead, and maintain breathing throughout.
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