How to Properly Brace for Lifts and Strengthen Your Core

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

Relying on a belt for most of your program hinders your ability to grow as a lifter. Plus, it simply doesn’t give you the chance to learn how to brace for lifts properly. Strengthening your core muscles and stability is key to improve your lifting capacity.


Sure, a belt becomes useful for lifts near, at, or above max load capacity. However, being able to maintain core stability without a lifting belt up to 90% should be your goal.


The Core is not Just Your Abs


The common belief is that the “core” means the muscles on the stomach, or even stomach and low back region. Sorry, but a six pack by no means is an indicator you have core strength.


These areas are included when we talk about using the core for bracing, but really this mysterious concept pertains to all the muscles connected to the spine - and those that contract to protect it.


Simply put – basically most the muscles found within your torso. Both superficial and deep. They help direct energy use to different areas of your body, and are what support trunk movement such as twisting and bending.


This list gives you a better idea of what really makes up your core strength:

Trapezius

Latissimus Dorsi

• Spinal Erectors

• Multifidus

• Serratus Anterior

• Internal & External Obliques

• Rectus and Transverse Abdominis

• Diaphragm

• Pelvic Floor

• Glutes


Are we really contracting all these muscles to do a simple movement such as squats? Absolutely - when you’re bracing correctly at least. This is why I always harp that a belt isn’t going to fix shitty form.



Ever hear your coach, or other coaches, telling athletes to stay tight throughout the movement? This concept basically means tense all these muscles throughout the movement of each repetition.


Not doing so hinders your ability to distribute your full power potential to lift heavier, and may cause movement breakdown leading to a failed lift with possible injury.


How to Properly Brace for Lifts


First, take a deep breath right now. Did you feel this deep breath more in your chest or the stomach? Many who take a breath without thinking about it will “chest breathe” mainly or always.


Here’s a related short story for you that happened to me. At a commercial gym one guy was doing squats across from me, and it happened I was doing my squat program as well.


Watching me lift, he eventually came over (not knowing I was a trainer) and said he notices I breathe in differently prior to squatting.


I explained to him that’s how he should properly be breathing especially if going to have a belt on. Feel the air go into your stomach. This essentially will fill up the space between your belt including your sides and tighten your back.

how to properly brace for lifts

Anyways, keeping it short, I saw the guy a few weeks later and he thanked me. Told me that he felt much better performing his lifts now from something so simple.


I wouldn’t say it’s that simple for many. It’s just that the misinformed follow the old saying “take a deep breath” before executing a lift, but it’s more than that.


Inhale and feel the pressure from the air push your stomach out. You then will know that you are properly bracing for a lift. For the most part at least.


I’ve seen some coaches get more technical and say it’s not stomach breathing because you’re also expanding your oblique’s.


Honestly, if you’re pushing your stomach out from taking a deep breath, then your body should already be expanding your oblique’s and tightening your lower back.


So technically yeah, it’s true, but let’s not make it too much of a complicated subject for athletes and clients.


Summing it all up – practice “stomach breathing.” Stand up and feel the air create abdominal pressure (your stomach). When at home or doing daily activities breathe in this way before picking up items or moving furniture.


Essentially create a habit to encourage muscle memory. Eventually “I forgot to brace” shouldn’t be an excuse when it becomes second nature.


lu xiaojun squat jerk
Notice how many Olympic lifters don't need a belt for their platform lifts.

How to Brace when Wearing a Belt


Lifting belts do come in handy when it comes to heavy lifts, and for some it’s a confidence booster when worn. The mindset of thinking your back in indestructible while wearing one, which can be bad if unable to brace with it on.


The belt shouldn’t be so tight to where your finger has no chance of getting between it and your skin. You should have it on to where it’s snug, but enough room for your core to push out against it.


You accomplish this by the bracing method we already discussed. Take that deep breath into your “stomach”, and notice how your body fills up against the belt in the front and sides.


This abdominal pressure created against the belt will make it tight against your lower back. Many throw up not because they ate too much prior to training, but because their belt was too damn tight.


The belt shouldn’t be incorporated with new lifters. They need to strengthen core muscles by actually using them and understanding how to effectively brace for lifts.


I never encourage clients or athletes to use a belt until I feel their core is strong and their understanding of how to activate it is apparent.