Spinal Bracing for Lifting Weights
More people than ever are squatting and squatting often. Whether for performance or personal goals, many have become focused on improving their squat, and, quite honestly, I don’t blame them. spinal bracing
When the goal is to load more weight on the bar and move it as efficiently and safely as possible, creating stiffness and rigidity through the core is crucial. I see many athletes forget this when the weight gets heavy and only concern themselves with reaching depth. This often leads to flexing or extending out of optimal position when hitting the hole and missing the lift.
The spine is inherently very mobile, and for a good reason. It’s nice to be able to bend over to put our socks on in the morning. However, being able to generate stiffness in the spine is vital when we’re stacking the spine with hundreds of pounds of load.
These loads are pretty significant as well. Barbell loads between 0.8 and 1.6 times body weight can magnify up to 10x body weight in the lumbar segments. The good news? Bracing can offset these forces. Creating intra-abdominal pressure during the squat has been shown to significantly reduce lumbar load, decrease flexion moments in the lumbar spine, and improve spinal stabilization during the squat. (Shoenfeld 2010). In conclusion, for an optimal and injury-free squat, athletes must be able to brace and brace effectively during the execution of the squat.
There are many different and effective cues for spinal bracing during the squat. If you have cues that work for you to maintain rigidity and limit spinal motion, please continue using them. However, I’ll share the cues that work best for me in hopes they’ll be helpful for others as well.
First, for the sake of these cues, envision your abdominal cavity as a 2-liter bottle. A filled and sealed bottle does not flex very easily, while and empty and open bottle can be easily bent. Your goal should be to fill and seal your bottle before your lift.
- Step 1: Squeeze your glutes. Bracing in an overextended position is ineffective and can give you a false sense of stability. Glute contraction helps set the pelvis from an often anteriorly tilted position to a more neutral and optimal alignment.
- Step 2: Fill the bottle. Suck air in, pulling from your diaphragm, to maximize the volume of air in your lungs. Think of filling your bottle in a 360degree manner.
- Step 3: Seal the bottle. After you inhale, forcefully stop the exit of air by pushing your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Be sure not to lose the rib cage position during this step. As you brace, pull your sternum towards your belly button.
- Step 4: Bend the bar over your back. Instead of trying to push the bar up with your arms during the squat, keep the bar pulled in tight to your spine. This increases latissimus dorsi activation, tensioning a large portion of your back and thoracolumbar fascia, aiding to provide additional stability
*Maintain pressure throughout the execution of the squat. Many athletes lose pressure in the bottom position and exhale during the concentric portion of the lift. It is crucial to maintain pressure and stiffness throughout the entirety of the movement.
Want to see bracing in action? Watch this video of Layne Norton setting the world record of 668lbs in the 93kg weight class.
Use these cues for a more efficient spinal bracing sequence before squatting. As with any skill, perfect practice makes perfect. Practice with every repetition, starting with your warm-up reps, to improve efficiency with your heaviest reps. Keep squatting, healthy, and heavy!
Mitch Babcock is a Doctor of Physical Therapy practicing out of HealthHQ and managing CrossFit Fenton. With a passion for all things training, he aims to give people better information to improve their fitness, health, movement, and performance.