How to Properly Brace When Lifting

Woman bracing to deadlift

Picture a soda can. When that can is empty, it’s easy to step on it and crush it. Now try to crush an unopened can.  

The material of the can hasn’t changed. What changed was the internal pressure of the can.  

The next time you’ve got a heavy barbell loaded on your spine, think about the full soda can and embody it. That’s the difference between lifting when you’re properly bracing and when you’re not.  

Why Brace While Lifting?

Man bracing during a barbell squat

Proper bracing (which many people think of as breathing) allows you to keep tension in your upper body so it doesn’t collapse, like an empty can. A stiff core creates a foundation of stability and efficiency throughout your body.  

Bracing has a ton of benefits. It’s a quick way to improve your lifts, especially for newbies. It will also help keep you safe by reducing the compression on your spine.  

One technique that will diminish the risk of injuries, improve your form, and level up your lifts? Yeah, this is a trick you want to learn. 

How to Brace

Woman squatting with a barbell

Bracing is more than just taking a deep breath and holding it in while you lift. Instead of thinking about filling your lungs or just flexing your abs, think about expanding your torso on all sides. Not sucking in your stomach, but rather pushing out your stomach and rib cage. An expanded belly creates a bigger base to stabilize the bar.  

But not just belly. Like a soda can, you want to feel that strong, internal force the full 360 degrees around. Imagine expanding around. You can train this by putting your hands on your ribs/sides and practicing pushing your hands outward. It may help to watch in a mirror.  

Some people say to imagine you are bracing to take a gut punch, but that can leave out your sides and the back of your core. If that helps you understand a tight core, that’s only one cue to remember. After you tighten your core, then you want to also expand it outward with your breath.  

The goal is to create as much intra-abdominal pressure as possible. 

Be careful your chest isn’t rising as you take a deep breath, as that can create spinal extension – the opposite of a neutral, strong spine. 

Belts and Bracing

Man doing back squats

Belts are frequently worn by lifters who move heavy weight, like powerlifters. Yet make sure you understand the purpose of the belt – and how to properly brace belt-free – before you start wearing one.  

The purpose of a lifting belt is not to protect your back. Your bracing does that. The lifting belt is simply worn as a cue to help you brace properly. Focus on expanding your torso and internal pressure against the full length of the belt, front to back. Think of your belt like a wall to push against to help you brace even harder. 

You don’t need to yank on your belt like a corset; a too-tight belt can actually inhibit your ability to fully expand your torso to create tension. The belt should fit snugly as you brace, but not overly tight before you brace.