Have you noticed how you breathe when you're lifting weights? Or how you tend to hold your breath when you're trying to balance on something? The increase of intra-abdominal pressure during sport or activity is called ‘bracing’. You could read more about what creates a good brace in the previous blog articles Posture and Breathing I and II.
The modern problem
Postural stability and core activation is subconscious, and it kicks in before any movement because it is needed in order to prepare the body and joints for the forthcoming activity. However, unfortunately for most of us, we have created a ‘’new normal’’ for our posture which is not ideal. It may be because of an injury, other pathology or just repetitive strain and bad posture. Either or all of it creates a chronic insufficiency of our deep stabilization system and “weakens” it over time.
Once our deep system (aka our core muscles) are weakened, other muscles - on the superficial layers begin to over-compensate, leading to increased tension and stress on our joints. This is what ultimately causes pain syndromes in musculoskeletal issues. Our main goal then is to re-train and re-educate our deep stabilization system to work together and in balance and this begins here.
The mechanics of bracing
Bracing is the moment when we increase our intra-abdominal pressure, and maintain and hold this pressure during a movement. A good brace protects the lower spine and helps spread any force across the spine evenly, and creates a resistance for the spinal, abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to counteract it by staying in an eccentric contraction.
“The ideal order of bracing is contraction of the diaphragm first, then the abdominals and so on, and not the other way around ”reference”. Without this proper contraction, the intra-abdominal pressure would not be enough to withstand loads efficiently and our deep stabilizing muscles would not function nor activate well. If we inhale to brace but engage our abdominals first, we already have a compromise in our postural stabilization.
Compare the ‘brace’ techniques below:
[Picture A] Correct: arrow is pointing to the visible activity of all deep abdominal muscles
[Picture B] Incorrect: arrow is pointing to the protrusion of the lower ribs, signalling the lack of activity of the deep oblique muscles.
Do you spot the difference(s) here too?
On the left, we visibly see the lower ribs moving in an upward direction. This means that the diaphragm’s and other core muscles’ contraction was not sufficient enough to stabilize the ribcage down during the movement. This is a high risk of injury to the lower part of the spine, where it is now vulnerable to the force impact because of the incorrect muscle engagement.
On the contrary, in the picture on the right, even though there is room for improvement, we see a large difference in the position of the ribs and the shape of the abdomen. There is a symmetrical contraction of the core muscles that fixates her chest downwards.
Get professional advice!
It’s believed that for every movement problem a first step should be re-training the postural stabilization function. So if you suffer from movement difficulties or pain during an activity, it may be the right time to ask for a professional assessment on whether you may be lacking the correct technique or need guidance on how to improve your core activation.
Written by Farah Droubi