There are a few certain things that are necessary in a warm-up in order to have an efficient workout; being able to breathe and brace to activate and lock in your core are fundamental things that everyone should know!
What is the Core?
To be able to understand what the core does and how it functions, we need to understand what is it. When people talk about core, they immediately visualize a six-pack, abs, and being extremely cut, however, that’s not the case. Although that image may seem like those individuals have a well-built, coordinated core, this may not always be the case.
What does this mean?
The core and abdominals are two different structures that function differently but assist each other in some cases. When we are speaking specifically about the core we can classify the core into two parts: global and local systems. The global system includes the rectus abdominis (abs), external obliques, and erector spinae which deal with functional movement and can assist in core stabilization. The local system includes the more intrinsic muscles that attach directly to the spine including the transverse abdominis and multifidus, the main core stabilizers, and the internal oblique which primarily act as stabilizers.
Those first ideas of a core would be more the superficial global system and used for functional and high-speed movements. The core consists of the muscles that are not seen and are trained independently of what everyone sees. This is why someone can have a six-pack but not always have a great core. For those that train both and know the distinction between the two, give yourself a pat on the back.
The purpose of the muscles of the transverse abdominis, multifidus, and the internal oblique is to create that stability within the spine when going through a range of motion (ROM). Without proper core stabilization, there can be faults in form and movement; That can, unfortunately, lead to injury in some extreme cases. This is why knowing about the core and how to train it is important for everyone.
Breathe and Brace with your Belly
Bracing your core comes in two parts; the first component we will be discussing is breathing. Breathing is something that is subconscious and automatic. We do not need to learn how to breathe, we just do it. Breathing for bracing is slightly different but has a big impact on core stability. Currently, while you are reading this blog you are (hopefully) breathing; your chest is rising with each inhale and then falling with the subsequent exhale. This is not what we want to do when we are lifting, however, at least during a heavy lift.
When we breathe with bracing in mind we want to do what is called a “belly breath” or diaphragmatic breathing. During our inhalation of air instead of making our chest rise, we want to make our belly rise and push outward. This can be taught easiest by placing two fingers and a thumb between the top of your iliac crest (your hip bone) and the bottom of your last rib. With your fingers in between those two points, you want to imagine that you are filling a balloon 360 degrees and pushing your belly into your fingers. That will create a ton of intra-abdominal pressure coupled with bracing which will be talked about next.
How to Activate Your Core
The second component to properly brace your core is activation. Before we start utilizing the core we need to understand how to activate your core. The hardest part of activating your core is being able to understand the feeling of core bracing or “bearing down.” This idea of bracing can be mostly akin to the idea of tensing up the midsection. Below are the tips and tricks to use if that feeling is new to you!
One of the ways you can understand this feeling is unconventional. That feeling of when you are going to the bathroom. It is not the most glamorous or scientific way to describe the feeling but it’s accurate; the abdominal tensing that is going on when you are trying to go to the bathroom is the same feeling we want to accomplish when activating your core.
The second cue that you can use to learn how to brace your core is the idea of being hit. If you were asked to stand in front of a 350+ lbs American Football lineman and asked to stand like a statue and not to be pushed back; how would you react? Or, if you were asked to stand up straight with your hands behind your back and then were about to be punched in the stomach? Those two feelings are one in the same. As you are being charged by that 350+ lbs lineman or getting punched in the gut by one of your friends, the feeling of your midsection tensing is the feeling you want to achieve. So the next time you need a reminder, just ask your friend to punch you in the gut (not really).
One last tip
Finally, the last learning cue to give yourself to understand the feeling of abdominal bracing is taking a deep breath followed by a rapid exhale as fast as possible. The goal of this exercise is to expel all the air in your lungs in the shortest amount of time possible. Imagine you have a blow dart gun and try to put the dart as far away from you as possible, you need to get as much power behind that dart as possible. How is that possible? To exhale as fast and as quickly as you can. After you have exhaled, that end feeling when you have nothing left in your lungs and your abdomen is tight is that feeling of bracing.
Those three tips and tricks can help you start to understand what it means to brace your core.
Now that you know the basics of how to properly breathe, brace, and activate your core; you can begin to implement them into your exercises to create a safer, more efficient workout.