Breathing/bracing for lifting Heavy Things

Breathing/bracing for lifting Heavy Things

Bracing is a key part of lifting heavy things safely and efficiently. It is a skill, like anything, that develops over time and with concentrated practice.

When I teach new members at Black Flag how to brace, I will always ask them how they think they should breathe (for example, I will ask “How do you think you should breathe during a squat”). I think I’ve gotten the correct answer maybe once or twice, and this is often from people who have been training for a while on their own.

When lifting heavy, hold our breath and ‘brace’ for each rep. We do this for a few reasons:

1. Maintain internal pressure to help create a rigid torso and maintain a neutral spine
2. Activate core stabilising musculature
3. Maintain a consistent position – minimise variables/moving parts.

Most people come in thinking that you breathe in on the way down, and out on the way up. If you’re lifting heavy, this is wrong. At the bottom of a squat, for example, you are in your most mechanically disadvantaged position – why would you then REMOVE stability by letting out your air? You don’t, because you want to live and not be folded in half by that 200kg squat.

In the same vein – why would you try and create stability during the lift on the way down (by breathing in on the way down)? You don’t, you set your position and brace before the descent because you want to live and not be folded in half by that 200kg squat.

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Ok, so we now know that we should be holding our breath for the rep (and resetting/breathing at the top of the movement). Is that it?

Kind of. If you just take in ‘big air’ and hold it correctly, you’ll be ahead of 90% of gym goers. But there’s more to the story when it comes to bracing correctly.

One of our goals when bracing is to maintain a strong, neutral spinal position. Your spine is designed to be loaded a certain way, and putting a ‘kink’ in this system is ultimately just creating a weak point. I like to use the analogy of a Pepsi can (Pepsi is the superior cola beverage so yes we’re using a Pepsi can).

A Pepsi can is surprisingly strong, provided there are no dents or kinks. You can stack a fair amount of weight on top of these thin aluminium walls before they give out, because they are well designed for loading from the top down. When you add a dent/kink, however, the system is compromised and the can will give way to outside forces much more easily.

Strong. Dependable. Better than Coke.   

See? Just like a Pepsi can.

When bracing, we want to be that Pepsi can. Over extending the back simply creates a kink in our aluminium wall – it’s not the strongest position. We use the cue ‘ribs down’ a lot to correct this tendency for over-extension. It also requires people to be comfortable hinging at the hips, and disassociating from the feeling over ‘bending forward while lifting = bad’.

So there you have it, the basics of bracing for lifting heavy things. I hope this has helped you better understand what correct bracing is and why we do it (and, ultimately, helps you lift more!).

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