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  • Tyler Riley

Abdominal Bracing: What is it and Why Should We Do it?

An often overlooked, yet vitally important skill is abdominal bracing while under a strenuous load. Powerlifters have it figured out. They use thick leather belts as kinesthetic feedback to engage the appropriate musculature. Bracing refers to creating intra-abdominal pressure using your abs, obliques, spinal erectors and inhaled air to maintain a safe, neutral spine position (1,2). So, the belt works as a physical barrier to brace against. It is important to note that when inhaling, we are inhaling using diaphragmatic breathing. We should not be experiencing chest rise, but rather an extension of our bellies.


Bracing is a fundamental skill for lifting safely and with proper form. Maintaining a neutral spine position minimizes the risk of spinal cord injury during exercise by preventing unnecessary shear forces along the vertebrae of the spinal column (1,2). A neutral spine loads the vertebrae maximally to load the compressive forces they are facing during a lift or movement (1). From a performance standpoint, maintaining a braced neutral spine also plays a key role in energy transfer throughout the body (1,2). The benefits of bracing aren't limited to the weight room either. Improved posture and reinforced motor patterns are also known benefits of bracing (1). This leads to a decreased likelihood of back pain and associated conditions (1).


It is important to maintain intra-abdominal pressure while under strenuous loads. At the gym you may hear people grunting and exhaling on the way up from a squat, as if they are getting an extra boost of energy, but in reality they’re compromising their form and leaving themselves vulnerable to injury. That’s because those big exhales, while they may feel empowering, are just releasing that crucial intra-abdominal pressure. My favorite example to illustrate this concept is a can of soda. Try crushing an unopened can of soda. My guess is you can't, can you? That's your body when in a braced position. Now take an empty can, you can probably easily crush it with one hand. That's your body when you exhale. So, it is ultimately your choice: crush the weight, or be crushed. Bracing helps you do the former, rather than be the latter.


So now you have a better idea about what bracing is and why it’s important, but what does it have to do with flying?


Bracing and maintaining intra-abdominal pressure are key skills involved in the AGSM position. They are necessary for proper form and to protect the spine from the increased G-forces placed on the body during aggressive maneuvers.


Below are a couple exercises to practice engaging belly breathing and bracing:


1. Weighted Ab Riser: lay on your back with your legs extended. Place a kettlebell, dumbbell, or even a heavy book on your stomach. Inhale, aiming to raise the weight straight up towards the sky.

2. Crocodile Breathing: lay flat on your stomach with your arms above your head and legs extended behind you. Have a friend watch your breathing, looking for a rise in your lower back as you inhale (3).


Conceptualize these mental & kinesthetic cues when lifting or under G-forces:


1. Pretend there is a tire around your stomach and try to push against it on all sides, not just the front.

2. If wearing a belt or G-suit, push through the core on all sides, as if you are a balloon expanding with air.

3. BIG BELLY BREATH (sustained through the duration of the lift)!


Learn more with the following resources/relevant material:


Readings:

1. Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza

2. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training by Mark Rippetoe and Lon Kilgore


Videos:

1. Brian Alsruhe, Neversate athletics: https://youtu.be/PLHY2-nt-y4

2. Part 2: https://youtu.be/u-mhjK1z02I

3. EliteFTS, Joe Sullivan Demonstrates Crocodile Breathing: https://youtu.be/2mCwbWPtICI


Relevant Text:

1. Starrett, Kelly., and Glen Cordoza. Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance. Las Vegas: Victory Belt Pub., 2013.

2. Kilgore, Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training. Wichita Falls, TX: Aasgaard Co, 2011. Rippetoe, Mark., and Lon Kilgore.

3. EliteFTS: Crocodile Breathing and Other Important Cues:https://www.elitefts.com/coaching-logs/crocodile-breathing-and-other-important-cues/



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