It is said that the longer and deeper you breathe into your belly as a child does, the longer you will live. I don’t know who it was but it sure does make sense to me.
If I had a Nickel for every time I said the words, Squeeze your butt, squeeze your core, squeeze your quads, brace and or get tight I would be rich. No joke, I would be filthy, stinkin rich.
But what does this actually mean? What does bracing mean and how in the heck do you do it? This is not about when to or why but simply how to get started with it. It is my effort to simplify and distill into a few paragraphs what took me minutes to learn and years to be master.
Bracing is simply a word used to describe what needs to happen in the body to allow the rest of the body to do the work you are asking it to do. Another way of stating this might be whole body tension. The key to really getting good at this is Diaphragmatic (Belly) breathing. There, that is the key. We will circle back to this after we look at the bits you already understand.
Squeeze your butt- Your glutes extend your hips. If you are standing up you already get this, you may need to commit to it a little but the concept is there.
Squeeze your quads- Your Quads extend your knees. If you are standing up you already get this, you may need to commit to it a little but the concept is there.
Squeeze your core-The roll of the core is to create stability. It serves as somewhat of an origination point for all movement. How we engage our core is a matter of breath control. (Diaphragmatic breathing)
What we are attempting to do when we brace is stabilize, in a neutral position, every aspect of the body that is not being asked to move. As an example we can use the overhead press. In the press the upper body, traps, lats, biceps, triceps etc. are all actively involved in moving weight from the shoulders to overhead. The rest of the body is BRACED. It is stabilized to provide maximum support as the primary movers do their thing.
Where to begin? Part 1-The lower body
Bracing begins at the feet. With the knees unlocked, begin to create your connection to the ground. Your feet are screwed into the floor, right foot right and left foot left, gripping downward. The goal is to connect to, not just stand on the ground. As you screw your feet into the ground you will begin to feel your lower body muscles tensioning, primarily you will feel your quads (front of the legs) and your glutes (butt) contract. The movement is actually occurring primarily from the glutes as external rotation. I have found that if we focus on the ground first it works better. We want to imagine that we are drawing tension from the ground upwards and then meeting that tension form the top down as well.
Part 2- The core
This is where Diaphragmatic breathing comes in. The Diaphragm is the muscle that controls breathing. Specifically breathing in. Incidentally many people struggle with this because of an inability to relax, they become shoulder and mouth breathers. Lie down on your back with your knees bent, souls of the feet flat, you can use cushions or mats to support your head and under your knees if it makes it easier. Place your hands, one on on your belly, the other on your chest and breathe away. You will likely notice that your chest rises and falls and and maybe even notice that your shoulders rise towards your ears. This is WRONG. Stop it and for goodness sakes relax. We can try imagining our lungs filling from the bottom up rather than from the top down
Try again, think of breathing into your lower back, into the connection between the ground and your back or if you can’t get flat, into the space that’s there. Apply a little pressure to your abdomen and try again. Relax and slowly breathe in focusing on the pressure from your hand. Allow your hand to exert pressure on the exhale as well. You are trying to move the hand that is on your belly with your breathing not by distending your belly. That may happen as a result but is not the goal. Start slowly, your breathing might be quite shallow initially but in time, give it 6-8 minutes you will gradually rediscover your ability to breath naturally, the way you are meant to. As a bonus, you will, in all probability, come out of the 6-8 minutes feeling refreshed and more relaxed.
If not, give yourself permission to spend a few minutes every day practicing. I am pretty sure if you do this you will become an even more awesome person than you already are and all of your dreams will come true. Once we get this down we can focus on putting it all together into a good solid brace. We will address this in part 2.
Pssst, Part of the reason a lot of people have trouble with this is simply that they are holding in their bellies. They are concerned with how they look. Keeping their gut sucked in and trying to look how they don’t is inhibiting their ability to breathe.