Why do you need to brace your core?
First, let’s define “bracing.”
To brace your midsection in the context of lifting is simply creating 360 degree (circumferential for you intellectual types) intra-abdominal pressure. This will stabilize the spine and protect it from shear stress.
It is NOT sucking in your belly button towards your spine, as some trainers out there will say. That does not actually create nor maintain enough intra-abdominal (the core) pressure and not only will you experience power leaks, but it puts you at a greater risk of injury.
So, why do we brace?
1. Efficient power/force transfer- for example during a squat or deadlift your lower body applies force to the ground and that transfers to your upper body and thus the bar moves up (hopefully…). In athletics, your body will naturally brace during high-power activities such as sprinting or jumping. Learning how to brace and do it well in a slow setting, i.e. lifting, will transfer beautifully to the “faster” movements such as sprinting and thus, you have much more efficient movement (aka, you run faster).
2. Prevents power leaks- part 2 of creating a system for efficient force transfer is preventing leaks in that system. For instance, I see a lot of people’s upper backs (or lower backs…) round during a deadlift. This not only increases risk for injury (see next point) but it’s also a power leak. Some of that force that the lower body is applying to the ground is lost which limits the amount of weight a person can lift. It’s like watering grass in the middle of a hot day- some water still gets down in the ground but a lot of it is lost to evaporation and doesn’t actually benefit the lawn. The same thing applies here: there still force being applied to the barbell, but some of the power is lost in that leak.
3. Injury prevention- A stable spine is a happy spine. The intra-abdominal pressure created during bracing supports the spine while it’s under load/stress, such as during a back squat or the landing of a broad jump. Usually the reason why people hurt their backs is because they don't brace properly.
Bracing involves taking a big ol’ breath (but not just any ol’ breath as you’ll see below) and then clamping down on that air, squeezing all your midsection, and holding it throughout the lift (like you’re about to get punched or constipated). The holding part is usually not the problem, I’ve found, but the actual intake of breath.
Below is a video where I get a little more detailed on how to actually breathe in prior to bracing.
So there you have it! Breathe in to fill both your belly and rib cage, crush it, and hoist your barbell. If you want to read a slight more in-depth article, click HERE.