When people think of lifting weights, they are usually thinking of their biceps, triceps, shoulders, and lats. Their legs, quads, hamstrings, glutes. The muscles that carry objects are considered the most important part of lifting weights and getting from one place to another, but they fail to consider the muscles in the abdominal region that brace the body and help lifters even lift weights. Abdominal bracing is not flashy or sexy, but it is the most important aspect of lifting weights and moving through space and time. One of the best ways to train your abdominal muscles is not to do sit-ups, crunches, or leg lifts. Rather, you should brace your midsection, perform intra-abdominal bracing, or perform abdominal bracing.
When you move your body or lift a weight, you practice abdominal bracing. This bracing, an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, actually occurs spontaneously whenever you move your limbs. Thus, it’s central to human movement.
If you want to lift weights, do squats, or perform overhead presses, you brace. If you want to throw a baseball or throw a punch, you brace. If you want to jump over an obstacle or dunk a basketball, you brace.
Abdominal bracing enables energy to move efficiently through your entire body so you can act on the physical world. If you don’t exercise abdominal bracing, you decrease power production, lose force, and put yourself in jeopardy of injury.
Palpitations in the chest area, when the chest wall rises up on the diaphragm, are another good reason to focus on and perfect abdominal bracing. By performing the primary function of the abdominal muscles, which stabilize the body to transmit force, you also give your entire abdominal complex the best workout possible. The heavier the weight or the faster the movement, the more bracing you need and the more intense the training stimulus you just applied. The more abdominal bracing you do, the more power you will generate. The more strength you generate, the more challenging your abs will be to resist. The more force your abs can resist, the stronger your abdominal muscles will become.
The thing about abdominal bracing is that we are always doing it. It’s a subconscious autonomic response of your body to movement and lifting. It’s more than just an answer. It occurs before the action, almost as a predict or prediction. Contracting the diaphragm and tensing the abdominal muscles occur before you actually move.
How to Practice Proper Abdominal Bracing
Try out abdominal bracing right now. The only way to understand it is to try it in practice.
1. Prepare to take a punch.
Imagine that you’re going to take a punch. What do you do? You tighten your core, engage your back muscles, tighten your buttock, and gird your loins. My apologies for the language, but there’s really no way to around it.
2. Take a breath into your belly.
Breathe in deeply through your nose. Take a slow, big breath into your belly. The “punch” should be felt in your core. Now, the air will not be entering your stomach, but this is an excellent remedy to truly breathe with and work your diaphragm.
3. Breathe “downwards.”
You don’t have to know about the diaphragm to appreciate the above photo. In the center of the box represents your diaphragm. It’s a large slab of muscle that connects to your lungs and pulls them downward to increase ventilation. In doing so, the diaphragm compresses the entire abdominal musculature and increases intraabdominal pressure.
You should feel your muscles more tense.
4. Expand your ribcage.
Proper abdominal bracing involves expanding your rib cage as the obliques contract and tighten.
5. Push out, not inward.
Your abdominal wall must press inward on all sides of your rib cage. Sucking in Abdominal muscles compromises your posture and makes it difficult to maintain optimal abdominal bracing.
Tips for Abdominal Bracing
Abdominals are not just the six pack
You have the typical abdominals that represent low body fat and that face forward. The obliques cover the left and right sides of your torso. You’ve got erector spinae, the large sheaths of muscle that run down your back on either side of your spine. All of them matter when abdominal bracing is performed. They should all be involved in the operation.
Think about a can of soda.
A soda can function properly as long as its top is intact and it is filled with liquid. It is a vertical column that can stand on its own even without a top and open, only if it is full. That’s intraabdominal pressure. That’s abdominal bracing. Open the can and empty its content. The can collapses without warning and can bear no weight when lifted or moved. Lifting or moving without abdominal bracing is equivalent to standing on an empty soda can.
Maintain proper posture.
Posture is crucial. Your back must be straight in order to activate your muscles instead of resting on your back. Don’t be excessively long with your belly sticking out and your butt. There’s a huge hollow in the small of your back if you tuck your pelvis. This is a recipe for disaster. Make an effort to design your spine into the shape of a “j” by keeping your spinal column as straight as possible while incorporating a slight arch in your lower back and pelvis.
Should you always practice abdominal bracing?
If you’re dancing or playing with your children, jumping, or playing tennis, you probably don’t need to be consciously bracing all the time. You also want fluidity and motion, and our bodies are generally very good at regulating the level of abdominal bracing based on the movement we’re engaging in. We can trust our limbs to help us with bracing for simple motions.
Nonetheless, this sort of mindful bracing is most important for activities that entail lifting heavy weights in preparation for a large workout. This could be a heavy set of deadlifts or squats, a maximal effort lift in competition, or any situation in which you know you are going to exert a great deal of force. For a set of 5 to 10 heavy squats, make sure you brace before lifting. Many find that abdominal bracing improves their strength and performance at the gym, leading to a 5 to 15% increase in power immediately.
Also, if you’ve been out of the game for a while, or if you have a history of back injuries or throwing your back out during daily life tasks like picking up a remote from the ground, practice conscious abdominal bracing until it becomes second nature. That means following the abdominal bracing steps up above whenever you move some furniture, empty the dishwasher, lift your child up, or do any other activity that requires a stabilized spine.