You have probably heard someone tell you to “Brace your core!” When you are exercising, but do you actually know how to brace your core?
Is it sucking in your stomach like you are on the beach trying to show off your abs?
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.
Just be sure to read each line left to right because there are so many misconceptions out there on how to properly brace your core.
I want you to leave this article knowing exactly what, when, where, and how to brace your core.
Yet to make sure of that, you gotta read the entire article.
What do you say? Sound good? Perfect, let’s get into it then.
How To Brace Your Core
Why Is It Important?
Before we dive into exactly how to brace your core let’s first cover some of the many reasons why it is so important.
There is a reason you hear every trainer yelling it to their clients, or every strength and conditioning coach telling their athletes to brace their core.
Actually, there are a few reasons. Let’s dive into them now so you can understand why these things are important to you.
* Fun fact, studies show that if you learn something, you are much more likely to actually care about it and implement it into your life! Hence why I am educating you on this first before we dive into the action tips!
When it comes to core bracing, one of the main reasons understanding how to do this is important is for your spinal stability.
You have probably heard ( or seen ) someone say they hurt their back from deadlifting.
Or they hurt their back from squatting, or bent over rows, or any kind of exercise.
Why is this?
Well, more than likely, they were not properly bracing their core. ( It could be many other reasons as well, ie using too heavy of weight, but for the sake of this article let’s continue with core bracing ).
For the most part, you want to be able to maintain a neutral spine when you are doing exercises.
Squats, deadlifts, bent over rows, really any exercise.
Now, some people will go to the Nth degree to make sure you have a neutral spine.
Listen, first off, there is some natural curvature of your spine, like this pic here below.
Second, “neutral spine” can be a range. Not everyones spine is going to look exactly the same when they are squatting, deadlifting, or things alike.
Yet with that being said, the fact still remains, we typically want a neutral spine when performing movements.
What are the things that could happen to not make it a neutral spine?
Your spine could go into either extension or flexion, shown here below.
Typically speaking this is going to be sub par for many reasons, but the most important one being injury.
Without getting too in depth, this is generally what causes things like slipped discs, bulging disc’s, L4 & L5 problems, etc etc etc.
Now, disclaimer, I am not a physical therapist so no I cannot diagnose and treat your issues.
This is just some basic anatomy 101.
Yet, this is in fact how most injuries occur
Most injuries occur from either too much spinal flexion or too much spinal extension.
This puts an extra amount of stress and pressure on the discs and joints surrounding your lower back in particular. Your spine is not supposed to be taking that pressure, your surrounding musculature is.
Ie, 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. ( We will talk about these muscles and exercises later in the article! ).
Whenever someone comes to me with some sort of lower back pain, one of the first things I always do is teach them how to properly brace their core, then incorporate specific core bracing / ab training exercises to strengthen their core. ( Like the ones we talk about at the end of this article! ).
If your surrounding muscles of your spine do their job correctly, then your spine is going to be protected and safe.
Kind of like the president with secret service.
It needs that extra layer of support to remain safe and operating properly.
This is why learning how to brace your core is such an integral part of any exercise routine.
Coming from someone who spent the majority of 9 years with debilitating back pain, trust me, you want to learn this stuff early on! It can make the world of a difference.
Does this make sense?
Increasing Strength / Force / Velocity
One of the many reasons why properly bracing your core is important is because it creates more strength.
Think of your core as the transfer system of horsepower between your upper and lower body.
If you are doing a squat for example, that is a lower body move, but really, it is a full body movement.
You are using your entire body to create power. Your upper body has to stabilize, your legs have to push, and your core has to transfer force.
If your core is not rigid and strong, you would just crumble under the bar or fold in half trying to stand back up from a squat.
Your core is also where you are able to keep your body in that neutral spine position, which in of itself is going to increase force production and strength.
Think about if you were going to push someone.
Are you going to just kind of lightly push them with a flaccid core, not much power, not much force?
Or are you going to brace your core, bear down, and use your strength to push them.
You are going to use your strength and your core! That is where power comes from.
Therefore if you are someone who is concerned with lifting more weight, increasing your strength, and maximizing your force production, learning how to brace your core is something you must master.
It is a non negotiable!
Build More Muscle
Not only is bracing your core important for spinal stability and increasing strength, it is important if you want to be building muscle as well.
One of the main components of hypertrophying ( muscle building ) a specific muscle group is doing movements from a stable surface.
Your muscles need stability to be able to maximally contract and produce force. This creates an environment where you can create a lot of tension in the muscle.
Let’s take an RDL ( Romanian Deadlift ) for example. ( If you want a super in depth guide on how to do RDL’s, check this out HERE ).
An RDL is a great movement to hypertrophy your glutes.
Well guess what has to happen for your glutes to maximally contract and create tension?
Your spine has to stay neutral.
When your spine is neutral, your glutes can do the job they are supposed to do by pulling on the pelvis and contracting away.
What is one way to help maintain a neutral spine?
Properly bracing your core.
So if you are trying to grow your glutes for example, proper core bracing is an absolute must.
This goes for say a shoulder press too! Or a bicep curl, or literally, anything.
Without stability, muscles cannot maximally contract. Therefore the more stability you provide through core bracing, the better opportunity your muscles get to contract, and the more muscle you get to build.
How To Brace Your Core : Step by Step
Now that we have gone over a few of the main reasons why proper core bracing is so important, let’s dive into step by step how to accurately get this done.
First and foremost I am going to provide this totally free in depth video here on how to brace your core below, so feel free to check this out first.
Now to write things out step by step here as well, let’s dive into it.
Learn To Breathe
Huh?! Learn to breathe?!
I think you are pretty okay at breathing.. I mean you do it all day everyday and you are still alive, so I think you are pretty good?
Actually, over time, we become very poor and inefficient at breathing the correct way.
That correct way is called diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing.
This is the concept of breathing using all of your core, stomach, and diaphragm muscles.
Babies do this perfectly. If you have ever laid a baby on its back and watched it breath, you will notice it’s belly gets really big when it takes a breath in, then goes down as it exhales.
This is because they are belly breathing, the way we are supposed to.
As we get older and life gets more hectic, stressful, etc, we often revert over to chest breathing.
I challenge you right now take a big deep breath.
Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.
When you take that huge breath in, what is moving?
Your hand on your chest or your hand on your stomach?
If your chest is moving more than your stomach, this is the perfect example of how simply breathing can make a huge difference in properly bracing your core.
You are not recruiting your abdominal muscles through this process, therefore, if you go and try and brace your core, your abs aren’t actually going to 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
- From here, simply work to take some deep breaths through your nose. 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 is.
Your belly getting bigger?! Yes, it is the opposite of what you do on the beach or what you want to do in public I am sure.
Yet this is the proper way to make sure you can engage your core muscles and have all of the benefits we listed above from proper core bracing.
Try to practice this a few times throughout the day, before your workout, and after your workout.
One more note
You will probably find at first you cannot take very long or big breaths in, and as you exhale it is probably super quick.
The way to progress belly breathing is by simply increasing the time it takes you to inhale and exhale.
The longer you can inhale and exhale, the better you get at controlling your ab muscles. This then leads to better core bracing.
I will also say, this is something to help you learn how to properly brace your core. I don’t need you spending an hour a day on belly breathing.
Little bit upfront to learn, then maybe here and there just as a good reminder OR as a way to de stress, as this is GREAT for that.
But don’t think you need to do this everyday for hours on end.
Think About The Three P’s
Now that you have learned belly breathing, there are three main ways I try to teach people how to brace your core from an action standpoint.
I call them the three P’s.
Let’s see what those are below.
The first way I have always taught clients to brace their core is by simply thinking about if someone is going to punch you as hard as they can in your stomach.
If you were about to eat that punch, what would you do to make it not hurt?
You would probably bear down, brace your core, and brace for impact right?
More than likely you wouldn’t be sucking your stomach in to just have them punch you.
You would almost push your stomach out, bear down, and brace for the inevitable impact to come.
That is how you can think about core bracing.
If someone is going to punch you as hard as you can, you want to make sure you can withstand that.
Bear down, brace for impact, and that is the first way to brace your core.
Now, some people may in fact have thought that they would suck their stomach in… Which, would not be accurate.
So, let’s use the next example.
We all do it ( even girls, weirdly enough ).
Here is what I want you to think about.
Imagine you are sitting down on the toilet and you are backed up for the last few days.
Imagine you reallllyy gotta push one out the other end.
You are pushing.. pushing.. pushing…
THAT feeling right there, is the same feeling you should get when you brace your core.
NOW, please, for yourself and those around you, don’t poop.
Although funny enough, if you have ever heard someone fart during a heavy squat or deadlift, this is why!
They are bracing their core and this is sometimes a by product if not handled properly!
But that is the feeling you should be looking for when learning how to brace your core.
Once again, you should not be sucking your stomach in. That’s not what you are doing right?
You are actually pushing your stomach OUT to an extent.
That is another way to brace your core.
This one I tend to use when people have somewhat of a sense of what core bracing is.
Let’s say you are trying to use one of the two options above for learning how to brace your core.
Here is what I want you to think about.
You know how if you have an unopened can of soda, if you poke the outside, what happens?
You just kind of ricochet off right?
There is no dent made or anything like that. Why?
There is so much pressure built up inside that soda can that you can’t dent it by poking it.
The internal pressure is so built up.
That is what I want you to think about when you are bracing your core for yourself.
You are trying to create so much pressure inside your core that you can literally poke your stomach ( yes, even if you have fat ) and can feel it bounce off.
That is a great sign that you have intra abdominal pressure built up, protecting your spine, and creating a ton of force.
SO, very quickly, let’s now cover a quick rundown of core bracing.
Let’s say you are 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
- You are then going to brace your core, by either thinking about someone punching you, or sitting on the toilet pushing one out.
- You are going to go down into your squat, with your core braced, then explode back up and exhale as you get to the top. DO NOT EXHALE AT THE BOTTOM!
Then bam, that is one rep!
You did it, you braced your core! Congrats!!
Now, I know some questions may pop up, so let’s cover them.
Bracing & Breathing
Often times I hear people tell me “Eric, I can brace, but I can’t breathe and brace as the same time! What do I do!?!”.
First off, this is completely normal. This happened to me as well when I first learned core bracing.
Therefore, don’t freak out.
Number two, remember, this is a skill that you have to gain.
It won’t happen overnight unfortunately. But in due time, what will happen is, you will get more and more comfortable with bracing your core.
You will then be able to comfortably brace your core and breathe at the same time. It might feel weird right now, but the more you practice it, the better it gets.
You should be able to stand up tall, brace your core, and breathe as if nothing is happening.
And you will be able to do this as time passes, you just need to get better at it.
Remember you don’t have to hold your breath to brace. You just need to brace.
Core Bracing Is A Dial
I want you to think about core bracing as a dial.
You know how if you have dial lights you can turn the dial and the lights get brighter, or you can turn the dial and the lights get dimmer.
That is how you can think of core bracing.
For example, do you need to turn the dial all the way up while you are brushing your teeth?
Or performing a set of bodyweight squats?
No, probably not. Turn that dial down a bit.
But should you think about dialing it up a bit during a top set of heavy squats or deadlifts?
Probably a good idea yes.
But you have control over that dial and you can use it for whatever situation you may need it for.
Once you learn how to do it, you can use it however you’d like!
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 am going to link some of the best core exercises below for bracing your core in particular.
One thing I want you to keep in mind about these exercises is your main focus should be increasing time under tension, increasing your ability to contract your core and keep it while you breath, and going slow.
This is not something where you want to add a ton of weight, or do a ton of reps, because you will miss the entire benefit of what the exercise is supposed to do.
These will help with core bracing, but remember to go slow, don’t try and make it a competition or a speed race, and control every inch.
The bird dog is a tremendous exercise for keeping your core stable as you move your exterminates.
This is beneficial for things like squat, deadlifts, etc, where you move your extremities while keeping your core tight.
Sets : 2-3
Reps: 3-6 each side
Time For Each Rep : 2-10 seconds
Once again the Deadbug is an exercise where you can really learn core stability and control, while once again moving your extremities.
This is great because you are laying back flat to give you some external feedback while you learn!
Sets : 2-3
Reps : 3-6 each side
Time for each rep : 2-10 seconds
The good old fashion plank. And yes, if you do this right, this is hard as hell.
Most people butcher the plank, and that is why they can plank for minutes on end.
If you are holding a plank for anymore than 40 seconds, you are doing it wrong.
Watch the video above to make sure you actually get benefits out of the movement.
Time : 10-40 sec
Even though a reverse crunch is technically spinal flexion, this is a great exercise to feel your ab muscles while controlling them the entire way.
Be sure to NOT rush it, or just sling your body around.
Go slow, feel your abs, and kick ass.
Sets : 2-3
Reps : 4-10
How To Brace Your Core : Final Word
Well, now that you are done the article, it is my hope that you left here knowing exactly how to brace your core.
Remember, it is NOT sucking your stomach in.
More so pushing your stomach out, bearing down, and acting like you gotta poop one out! 😉
Hope this article helped and if you want more help like this, I can link here my Clubhouse below.
The clubhouse is where I keep all of my training programs, my nutrition guidelines, my exercise technique videos, literally everything!
Hope it all helped, and look to chat soon!