You have probably heard someone tell you to “Brace your core!” Do you actually know how to brace your core during exercise?
Are you trying to display your abs on the beach while it feels like it’s sucking in your stomach?
How about just throwing a weight-lifting belt on to “brace your core” better?
In this article today you and I are going to find out exactly what the heck “bracing your core” even means, and exactly how to do it.
There are many misconceptions about how to correctly brace your core, so just be sure to read each line from left to right.
I want you to understand exactly what, when, where, and how to brace your core after reading this article.
However, you must read the entire article to be certain of that.
Sounds good, wouldn’t you say? Perfect, then let’s begin.
When Should You Engage Your Core?
When your spine might flex, extend, bend, or rotate excessively, it’s crucial to keep your core engaged.
Engage Your Core While Lifting Weights
The most important time to activate your core may be during weightlifting. Any time you bend at one of your major joints—more specifically, your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles—the spine has the chance to move. Back arching during an overhead press was the earlier example given. Any excessive spine arches can be avoided by engaging your core.
The deadlift is an additional excellent illustration of when it’s crucial to engage your core. Your back may round and your shoulders may sag forward if you don’t engage your core before lifting the weight off the ground.
Your back will stay straight and your shoulder blades will remain retracted if you take a deep breath and contract your stomach.
Engage Your Core During Cardio
Cardio exercise generally doesn’t give you as much opportunity to move your spine into potentially harmful positions as weightlifting exercise, so the risk of suffering a spine injury is lower during cardio exercise. However, using your core during cardio can enhance your posture and lessen any aches and pains you experience during or after cardio exercise.
Engaging your core, for instance, can assist you in maintaining a high chest and a straight back while running. This can prevent you from overextending your neck, a common issue that can cause neck pain and headaches. During a run, bracing your core can also help to relieve some of the pressure on your lumbar spine, which can lessen or completely eliminate any pain you may be experiencing there.
Engage Your Core During Ab Workouts
Due to the amount of torso movement occurring during ab exercises, it can be challenging to maintain your core stability. The most common indication that you should brace yourself is hyperextension, also known as an arched back.
When performing ab exercises, visualize tipping your tailbone forward or contracting your glutes. Your lumbar curve can be lessened and your abdominal muscles can be tightened with the aid of these two cues.
Engage Your Core All Day
Engaging your core during daily activities will help you avoid bad posture (and the chronic pain that comes with it).
While at your desk and while traveling to and from your regular locations, practice engaging your core.
You can also put your skills into practice while doing other daily tasks, like grocery shopping. Try engaging your core when you reach to grab something from a high shelf. It’s beneficial training that you can apply to your workouts!
Why is It Important?
Let’s first go over some of the many reasons why bracing your core is so crucial before we get into the specifics of how to do it.
There is a reason why every trainer who works with clients yells at them to brace their core, and every strength and conditioning coach who works with athletes does the same.
The truth is that there are several. Now that we’ve discussed them, you can see why these issues are significant to you.
* Fun fact: Studies have shown that if you learn something, you are much more likely to actually care about it and apply it to your life. For that reason, I’m going to tell you about it now before we get to the action advice.
Your spinal stability is one of the main benefits of knowing how to do core bracing.
You have probably heard (or seen) someone claim that deadlifting hurt their back.
Or they suffered back injuries from exercises like bent-over rows or squats.
Why is this?
They most likely weren’t bracing their core adequately, to put it simply. ( Using too much weight, for example, could be another factor, but for the purposes of this article, let’s stick with core bracing.
When performing exercises, it’s generally a good idea to be able to keep your spine neutral.
Almost any exercise, including squats, deadlifts, and bent-over rows.
Now, some people will check to the Nth degree to make sure your spine is neutral.
First of all, as you can see in the image below, your spine naturally curves in certain directions.
Second, “neutral spine” can be a range. When someone is squatting, deadlifting, or doing other exercises, their spine won’t always look exactly the same.
Having said that, it is still true that when performing movements, we generally want a neutral spine.
What are the potential scenarios that could prevent it from being a neutral spine?
Your spine may bend or stretch, as depicted in the image below.
Generally speaking, this will be below par for a number of reasons, with injury being the most significant.
Without going into great detail, this is typically what leads to conditions like slipped discs, bulging discs, L4 & L5 issues, etc.
Now, a disclaimer: I am not a physical therapist, so I am unable to identify and resolve your problems.
Just some fundamental anatomy 101 here.
Protection from Injury
Most injuries result from excessive spinal flexion or extension.
Particularly the discs and joints surrounding your lower back are put under additional stress and pressure as a result of this. That pressure is meant to be supported by the muscles around you rather than your spine.
you know, your core muscles!
This is why “bracing your core” is so important to maintain spinal / low back health, as well as properly training your core muscles. ( Later on in the article, we’ll talk about these muscles and exercises! ).
One of the first things I do for anyone who visits me with lower back pain is to show them how to properly brace their core. I then incorporate specific core bracing and ab exercises to strengthen their core. ( similar to those that are discussed at the conclusion of this article! ).
Your spine will be safe and protected if the muscles that surround it do their jobs properly.
similar to the president’s use of the secret service.
For it to continue to be secure and function properly, it requires that additional layer of support.
That’s why a crucial component of any exercise program is learning how to brace your core.
Trust me when I say that you want to learn this information as soon as possible because I suffered from incapacitating back pain for the majority of nine years. It can significantly alter things.
Does this make sense?
Increasing Strength / Force / Velocity
The fact that it builds more strength is just one of the many benefits of properly bracing your core.
Imagine your core as the system that transfers power from your upper to lower body.
Squatting, for instance, is a lower body move that actually involves the entire body.
To generate power, your entire body is being used. Your core must transfer force while your upper body must stabilize and your legs must push.
When attempting to stand back up from a squat, you would simply collapse under the bar if your core is not rigid and strong.
Your ability to maintain a neutral spine position, which will enhance your body’s ability to produce force and strength, is also a function of your core.
Consider whether you would push someone.
Are you simply going to push them along with a weak core, little force, and minimal power?
Or are you going to hunker down, press forward, and push them with all your might?
You’ll rely on your power and stability. Power emanates from there.
So, if you want to be able to lift more weight, get stronger, and produce more force, you must learn how to brace your core.
There is no negotiating this!
Build More Muscle
Bracing your core is crucial if you want to gain strength and maintain spinal stability, as well as if you want to add muscle mass.
Exercises performed from a stable surface are one of the main elements in hypertrophying (muscle building) a particular muscle group.
To contract and generate force as much as possible, your muscles need stability. This fosters a setting where you can greatly intensify muscle tension.
RDLs (Romanian Deadlifts) are a good illustration.
Your glutes will grow larger after performing an RDL.
So, guess what has to happen for your glutes to contract and tense up the most?
Your spine must remain neutral.
By pulling on the pelvis and contracting vigorously, your glutes can perform their intended function when your spine is in a neutral position.
What one practice can help preserve a neutral spine?
ensuring proper core bracing.
Therefore, proper core bracing is a must if you’re trying to build your glutes, for instance.
This also applies to, say, a shoulder press! Or a bicep curl, or anything at all.
Muscles cannot contract to their fullest extent without stability. Therefore, the more stability you create through core bracing, the more opportunities your muscles have to contract, and the more muscle you have to build.
Bracing strengthens your core muscles, including your:
- Rectus abdominis: This is the “six-pack” muscle that runs down the front of your stomach.
- External obliques: Your stomach’s sides have these muscles.
- Internal obliques: Your rectus abdominal’s supporting muscles are those.
- Transverse abdominis: Your sides and back are covered by the deepest layer of abdominal muscle.
How to Brace Your Core: Step by Step
Now that we have briefly discussed some of the main factors making proper core bracing so crucial, let’s dive into the specifics of how to do this correctly step by step.
Learn to Breathe
Wow, start breathing, will you?!
You’re breathing pretty well, in my opinion.. In light of the fact that you work nonstop and are still alive, I believe you to be fairly competent.
In actuality, we actually get much worse and less effective at breathing properly over time.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as belly breathing, is the proper technique.
This is the idea of breathing through your entire core, stomach, and diaphragm.
Babies are perfect at this. If you’ve ever laid a baby on its back and observed it breathe, you’ll notice that its belly expands greatly when it inhales and contracts when it exhales.
They are breathing from the belly, as we should, which is why.
We frequently switch back to chest breathing as we get older and life becomes busier, more stressful, etc.
I’m going to challenge you right now to take a deep breath.
Place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest.
What moves when you inhale so deeply?
Which one is your hand on—your stomach or your chest?
This is the ideal illustration of how changing your breathing pattern can significantly alter how effectively bracing your core works if your chest is moving more than your stomach.
Since you are not using your abdominal muscles during this process, trying to brace your core won’t actually make your abs work.
To Help This, Here is What to Do.
- lay down flat on your back with your legs bent
- Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach
- Just keep trying to breathe deeply through your nose from this point forward. Try to make your hand on your stomach move NOT the hand on your chest
- As you exhale, exhale through your nose, and again feel your hand on your stomach going down
This is what diaphragmatic breathing entails.
The increasing size of your belly?! It certainly goes against what you would want to do in public or on the beach.
But doing it this way will ensure that you can brace your core properly and reap all of the advantages we listed above.
Try to do this a few times during the day, both before and after your workout.
One More Note
You’ll probably discover at first that you can’t inhale for very long or deeply, and that your exhalations are usually very quick.
Simply lengthening your inhalations and exhalations will allow you to progress with belly breathing.
Your ability to control your ab muscles improves as you can hold your breath for longer periods of time. The result is improved core bracing.
Aside from that, I’ll add that this will teach you how to brace your core correctly. You do not need to spend an hour each day practicing belly breathing for me.
Initially, a little bit to learn, then perhaps occasionally just as a good reminder OR as a way to de-stress, as this is GREAT for that.
However, don’t feel as though you must perform this activity nonstop for hours every day.
Think About the Three P’s
There are three main ways I try to explain to people how to brace their core from an action standpoint once they have mastered belly breathing.
They are what I refer to as the three Ps.
Check them out below.
By imagining that someone is going to punch you as hard as they can in the stomach, one can begin to arouse their core.
What would you do to prevent pain if you were about to consume that punch?
You would probably brace yourself for impact, brace your core, and bear down.
You wouldn’t be doing that if they were just going to punch you, most likely.
You would almost try to bear down, push your stomach out, and brace yourself for the inevitable impact.
In that way, core bracing can be considered.
Make sure you can withstand being punched as hard as you can if that happens.
The first step in bracing your core is to bear down and prepare for impact.
It’s possible that some people actually believed they would suck their stomach in, but that wouldn’t be the case.
Use the next illustration as evidence.
We all engage in it, oddly enough, even girls.
What I want you to consider is as follows.
Consider yourself seated on a toilet that has been clogged for a few days.
Think about how difficult it would be to push someone out the other end.
Pushing is what you are doing.. pushing…
The sensation you should feel when bracing your core is that one right there.
Please refrain from pooping right now for the sake of both you and those around you.
Even so, if you’ve ever heard someone fart during a challenging deadlift or squat, this is the reason!
When handled improperly, they may be unintentionally bracing their core.
But when learning how to brace your core, you should be looking for that sensation.
Again, you shouldn’t be sucking your stomach in. Right, you’re not doing that at all.
Actually, you are somewhat pushing your stomach OUT.
Another way to engage your core is like that.
This is the one I usually use when people have some idea of what core bracing is.
Imagine that you are attempting to learn how to brace your core by using one of the two methods mentioned above.
I want you to consider the following.
You know what happens when you poke the outside of a soda can that hasn’t been opened?
You simply sort of ricochet off, correct?
There is no ding or other damage. Why?
You can’t dent that soda can by poking it because there is so much pressure inside of it.
There is a lot of internal pressure.
When you are preparing your core for yourself, I want you to keep that in mind.
When you poke your stomach (yes, even if you have fat on it), you should feel the pressure inside your core bounce back at you.
That is a very good indication that you have built up intra-abdominal pressure, which is protecting your spine and producing a lot of force.
In that case, let’s quickly go over core bracing.
Say you’re going to squat.
You are going to
- Take a big breath into your belly through your nose through the same principles you learned through belly breathing
- Then, you’re going to tense up internally by imagining being punched or pushing a person out of a toilet while sitting down.
- With your abs tightened, you’ll lower yourself into the squat. As you ascend to the top, you’ll breathe out quickly. DO NOT EXHALE AT THE BOTTOM!
Suddenly, that was one rep!
You managed it by tensing your entire body. Congrats!!
Let’s address any questions that may arise now.
Bracing & Breathing
Often times I hear people tell me “While I can brace, I am unable to simultaneously breathe, Eric. What do I do!?!”.
First off, this is totally normal. When I first discovered core bracing, this also happened to me.
Therefore, try not to panic.
Second, keep in mind that you must develop this skill.
Unfortunately, it won’t take place immediately. But as time passes, you will gradually become more accustomed to bracing your core.
Then you’ll be able to comfortably brace your core while breathing. Even though it might seem strange at first, it will get easier the more you do it.
You should be able to hold your head high, tighten your abdominal muscles, and breathe normally.
And you’ll be able to do this as time goes on; you just need to improve.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to hold your breath to brace. Just take a seat.
Core Bracing is a Dial
Visualizing core bracing as a dial is what I want you to do.
You’re probably familiar with how dial lights work—you can turn the dial to make them brighter or dimmer.
That is how you can think of core bracing.
Do you have to turn the dial all the way up when brushing your teeth, for instance?
or completing a set of bodyweight squats?
No, probably not; lower the volume a little.
For a top set of heavy squats or deadlifts, should you consider turning the intensity up a little?
Most likely a wise decision.
But you have control over that dial, so you can apply it to whatever circumstance you see fit.
The possibilities are endless once you learn how to do it!
How to Brace Your Core: Core Exercises
Now that we know how to brace your core, how to perform movements, etc, we can talk about “core exercises”.
I’ll provide links to some of the top core exercises below so you can specifically strengthen your core.
One thing I want you to remember about these exercises is that your main emphasis should be on increasing time under tension, improving your ability to contract and maintain your core while you breathe, and going slowly.
You don’t want to overdo this exercise by adding a lot of weight or performing a lot of repetitions because you will lose all of the exercise’s intended benefits.
These will aid in core bracing, but keep in mind to move slowly, control every inch, avoid turning it into a contest or a race, and avoid trying to outrun anyone.
The bird dog is a fantastic exercise for maintaining core stability while moving your exterminates.
This is advantageous for exercises where you move your extremities while maintaining a tight core, such as squats and deadlifts.
Sets : 2-3
Reps: 3-6 each side
Time For Each Rep : 2-10 seconds
The Deadbug is an exercise that allows you to practice core stability and control while also moving your extremities.
The fact that you are lying back flat to receive some external feedback as you learn is fantastic.
Sets : 2-3
Reps : 3-6 each side
Time for each rep : 2-10 seconds
the reliable plank. It is indeed extremely difficult to do this correctly.
They can plank for long periods of time because most people botch the exercise.
You aren’t doing a plank correctly if you hold it for more than 40 seconds.
To ensure that you truly benefit from the movement, watch the video up top.
Time : 10-40 sec
While technically a spinal flexion exercise, a reverse crunch is a great way to feel and control your ab muscles throughout.
Make sure not to rush it or just throw your body around.
Keep your pace slow, feel your abs, and kick ass.
Sets : 2-3
Reps : 4-10
- Ensure that your pelvis and ribcage are stacked on top of one another.
Many people, especially women, spend a lot of time with their pelvis anteriorly tilted, which causes their ribcage to flare and their posture to be “open.” In order to stack your ribcage and pelvis, you should pull them both downward.
- Prior to starting to move, take a deep breath.
Breathe deeply from your belly and visualize your ribcage, belly, and lower back expanding in all directions. It may be difficult for you to breathe deeply into your belly if you frequently take shallow breaths into your chest (this frequently occurs in people who experience prolonged stress or even when we simply forget to occasionally stop and take some deep breaths). Lay on the ground with your knees bent and your feet flat to practice this. Take slow, deep breaths while placing your hands on either side of your ribcage and attempting to push into your hands with each inhalation.
- Breathe slowly and tighten your abdominal muscles.
Take a deep breath in and then try to breathe out while blocking your throat with your tongue to get a feel for how it feels. When you prepare to brace for a lift, you want to feel tension in your midsection and a lifting of your pelvic floor.
- Throughout the lift, hold your breath.
If you exhale while lifting, your intra-abdominal pressure will decrease, which is counterproductive because you want to maintain constant tension in your core throughout the lift. In order to finish the lift, hold your breath.
- Don’t bear down.
Have you heard of people pushing too hard during childbirth (or when they’re extremely constipated) and suffering hemorrhoids or pelvic floor injuries as a result? Don’t do that while you are under load because that is what bearing down causes.
- Don’t exhale while in the lift.
Your pelvis may move and your spine may move, which is what bracing is intended to prevent. This will change the intra-abdominal pressure.
You can lift and move heavy loads safely if you can brace well. Learning how to lift safely will be essential if we want to continue doing so for a very long time.
How to Brace Your Core: Final Word
Now that you’ve finished reading the article, I hope you know exactly how to brace your core.
Keep in mind that nothing is sucking your stomach in.
Much more so than bearing down, pushing your stomach out, and acting as though you need to poop!
I keep everything in the clubhouse, including my training schedules, dietary recommendations, exercise technique videos, and more!
I hope it all helped, and I hope to talk to you soon!