Restore the Core – Step 2 Breathe and Brace

By:  Chris Kelly CSCS (NSCA), CES, PES (NASM)

This information is from Chris Kelly’s eLearning continuing education course:  Restore the Core: Integrated Core Training for Real World Function.  See the full course for additional core assessments with video, and several core exercises and progressions with videos.
Part 2 of the Core Series is Core Complete Training: A Systematic Approach for Aesthetic Core Development by Chris Kelly.

Five Step Process for Restoring the Core
Much like a weight belt, the abdominals tighten around the spine to provide support during exercise or daily tasks such as bending over and rotating. Contracting the abs in this fashion is known as an abdominal brace. We use a simple five step process for restoring the core to increase function for abdominal training as well as daily life.

Step 2: Breathe and Brace

After foam rolling and stretching, the session continues with a simple drill to teach the client to re-establish deep breathing. This exercise can be seen as a “bang for your buck” movement because we are training the diaphragm while relieving stress and tension getting the client into the right frame of mind to exercise.

This drill can be performed by asking the client to inhale deeply through the nose while expanding the stomach, hold the breath for a slow three count and release through the mouth. At the same time, watch the position of the chest to ensure it is not rising.

While it will likely take several sessions for the client to gain an understanding of this method of breathing, practicing this drill both in your warm up and as homework will improve conscious control of this breathing pattern until it becomes unconscious habit.

Once the client has gained a working understanding of breathing, the next concept is to re-establish conscious abdominal control. This can be done by teaching them to actively “brace” or contract their abs.  A brace involves tightening the abs as if to avoid being poked in the stomach.

This drill can be practiced by placing one hand on the stomach and one hand slightly above the small of the low back.  Apply pressure by pushing into the stomach while tightening your abs to resist. You will feel your back extensor and abdominal muscles simultaneously tighten. Beginners should hold each brace for 5-10 seconds and then release several times to become familiar with this action. As this becomes easier, the length of each hold increases while the client breathes normally.

The ultimate goal of bracing is to consciously tighten the abs to stabilize the trunk against movement of the extremities. While bracing only requires around a 20% abdominal contraction for daily life activities, these demands are greatly increased during tasks which require increased stability such as resistance training or sports.  The trick is to “tune” the brace by allowing contracting as much as necessary in given situations.

With this in mind, the final bracing progression incorporates leg movement while breathing and bracing normally.

About the Author
Chris Kelly is an experienced fitness journalist, speaker, and strength coach. With over ten years in the fitness industry, Chris’s experience spans from work in rehabilitation settings to strength and conditioning for athletes.

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