If you can’t breathe, you can’t brace. Many times we think about taking a deep breath in and bracing our core to prepare to hit a big lift. Do we actually know what we are bracing? Am I just holding my breath? Knowing how to properly breathe is the first step in bracing properly.
To properly breathe you must be able to use your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is a large parachute-like muscle underneath your lungs that assists you to draw air in and help expel air out. It is our primary respiratory muscle. As your diaphragm contracts it draws air into your body and as it relaxes it pushes air out. On the left is the diaphragm contracting and on the right is the diaphragm relaxing and air being expelled.
There are many ways to find out how to breathe into your diaphragm. The easiest way is to lay down on the floor and place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Take 5 deep breaths focusing on your breath and ensuring that your hand on your belly moves first. As your inhale your belly button should move away from your spine and as you exhale it should move toward your spine. This should be done while taking your breaths in and out of your nose. If you feel it is hard for you to breathe into your belly, work on this drill throughout the day. Another way to find your diaphragm is to sit in a lotus position and place your hands underneath your ribs. When you take a breath, your hands should be the first to move. Think of breathing into your hands or an imaginary belt wrapped around you.
Now that you know how to breathe into your diaphragm you can properly brace your core. My favorite cue for this is to act like you are going to be punched in the gut. You must first breathe into your diaphragm in order to brace your core. Think of your core like a pop can- you can stack a substantial amount of weight on an empty pop can if stacked right, however there is a much higher risk for the can to be crushed with any minor dent in the can. Now think of a pop can full of fluid that you just shook up- there is a large amount of pressure inside the can and that can hold more weight with less chance of being dented. The empty can would be your spine without you taking a breath in, where you can still hold weight if stacked properly but have a higher risk for injury like being “dented.” Now if your take a breath in and create intra abdominal pressure like when you “shake up the can”, you can hold more weight with less risk of injury. This technique is called the “Valsalva Maneuver” and should be used for maximal squat attempts. While performing more repetitions it is important to breathe in-between reps, but to ensure you are breathing through your diaphragm and maintaining core stability.
- Coach Ryan