Breathing for Bracing

EmPower Exercise Physiology Strength & Conditioning

Doing this will help you lift heavier

Compared to our other blog on breathing, this blog is about bracing, what it is, what to do, and how to do it. Bracing is essentially creating an increase in intra-abdominal pressure by inhaling, followed by a co-contraction of our core muscles to add the rigidity and stiffness that our body needs when lifting heavy. Bracing is commonly used through most heavy lifting sports. This has been shown to increase the amount of weight we can lift but also allows us to do it safely. 

Some basics about breathing… When we inhale, our diaphragm muscle contracts and descends into the space below creating a vacuum that decreases the pressure in your chest (thoracic cavity) and allows the outside air to be drawn into the lungs. During exhalation, our diaphragm relaxes and returns to its resting position reversing the above process, increasing thoracic pressure, expelling the air from the lungs.

anatomy of breathingboyles law, pressure and volume

Here we can see what was explained above, and how this increase in pressure comes around (if you want more info on this, look up Boyle’s law).

You might be wondering why am I talking about breathing when you’ve come here to learn about bracing! Well, you need to understand one to be able to complete the other. It’d be like trying to bake bread but without being taught how – you’ll get there eventually through trial and error but learning the process definitely helps. Bracing is pivotal when wanting to lift heavier loads as it adds an element of stiffness and rigidity to the torso, which, if you ask me, is needed when lifting heavy loads. You certainly don’t want to be floppy through there with close to your max weight on your shoulders!

How does this happen though? During contraction of the diaphragm (as detailed above) it descends into the abdominal cavity causing reduced space and increased pressure (it’s the same principle that fills the lungs but reversed in the abdominal cavity). When we complete this movement, it not only brings an increase in pressure but also brings on simultaneous, coordinated contraction (co-contraction) of the whole musculature in the abdominal cavity (think a balloon expanding). This co-contraction uses some of the key muscles like the rectus abdominis, obliques, QL, and Lats (only a few of them). When bracing you want to think about expanding the whole area as one, like a balloon (see picture below) to effectively help increase intra-abdominal pressure and in turn help you brace. 

360 degrees expansion, breathing and bracing

When the muscles contract, they stiffen the lumbar spine and provide a level of rigidity to the trunk that is needed to aid in lifting these heavier loads. Thinking about this task, you have to coordinate the movements correctly otherwise you won’t get the right outcome. You must breathe before you brace. You can’t brace before you breathe otherwise the pressure in your abdomen won’t be enough to effectively help you. You most definitely can try to do the opposite order, but the effectiveness will probably be lower than expected, if effective at all. 

The ‘brace’ can be broken into two easy steps –  we have step one breathe in, step two, brace. It’s that easy, but knowing what you’re looking for is the hard part. Some drills that you can use to understand the breathe-brace pattern are:

  • 90/90 breathing
  • 90/90 Hip lift
  • Standing abdominal brace (band around stomach)

To understand the breathing-bracing relationship, get in contact with us to further understand this and improve your lifting ability! 

References:

  1. Tayashiki, K., Maeo, S., Usui, S., Miyamoto, N., Kanehisa, H., 2016. Effect of abdominal bracing training on strength and power of trunk and lower limb muscles. European Journal of Applied Physiology 116, 1703–1713.. doi:10.1007/s00421-016-3424-9
  2. Tayashiki K, Takai Y, Maeo S, Kanehisa H. Intra-abdominal Pressure and Trunk Muscular Activities during Abdominal Bracing and Hollowing. Int J Sports Med. 2016 Feb;37(2):134-43. doi: 10.1055/s-0035-1559771. Epub 2015 Oct 28. PMID: 26509386

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