Breathe, Brace, Go!
One of keys to having successful and safe lifts is the ability to properly Breath and Brace. The first reason is safety. We only get one spine and we have to protect it. When we are properly engaged it allows us to stop our spine from moving and shifting from the loads we are placing on it. It’s that moving and shifting while under load that will lead to pain and eventually injury. The other reason (The one you really care about) is it will make you stronger. The more braced and engaged you are the more power you can pull from your glutes and legs to perform your lifts. Additionally Bracing while under heavy loads will increase your overall abdominal strength making it one of the best core exercises you can do.
Summary: Lift more weights and don’t break your back by bracing.
You want to breathe in a way that fills up your entire midsection. We want to expand out as we take in air. We are not sucking our stomachs in. One way to test this is to push your thumbs into your obliques, take in a breath that pushes your thumbs out.
Not bracing Bracing
From here you want to bring your ribs down to straighten the spine. Then we Brace down to engage our core muscles. A stiff engaged core means less power from the legs being lost as we perform the lift.
Summary: Expand your Midsection out as you take in air. Engage your abs to keep everything in place.
A lot of us use weight belts when performing our lifts. It is important to know that the belt is used to ASSIST the bracing effect. You must still breathe out into the belt and brace your core. The belt provides a push back into your core increasing the overall stability, but it doesn’t create stability. We most still work on creating a strong core and ideally make that our natural weightlifting belt. The belt should only be used for loads that are higher than 80% of our 1 Rep Max. For lighter that 80% is best to focus on bracing without the belt. This will turn every lift into an additional core exercise, making you a stronger athlete overall
Summary: Belts are a great tool, but don’t use them as a crutch! Use them only for Heavy loads and focus more on core stability.
How to Improve
Practice, Practice, Practice. Every time you are warming up. Every time you pick up a weight. Movements like hollow body rocks, dead bugs and bird dogs are designed to be practice for learning how to stay engaged AS we are moving. Slow the movements down when you perform them. Test to see how long you can stay engaged. Planks and other isometric holds go a long way in improving core stability which improves overall strength.
Summary: Do all the stuff you groan at when a coach tells you to do it!