Bracing is complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. The thing about bracing is it is partially strength, but mostly skill. As with any skill, the key to mastery is progressively repeating the action over a period of time. So when people get frustrated that they are not getting a stronger “brace” or a six-pack after a few weeks or months, I urge you to remind them that competitive strength athletes spend years (decades) improving the skill of bracing. The hope is that every single day you improve your ability to brace over the last, so you will never reach the end destination until the day you die.
In terms of actually training your ability to brace, so many people get it wrong but the successful few typically get it right. Crunches and heel-touches may make for great Instagram posts while the camera zooms in to a shredded six-pack that hasn’t consumed a calorie in 24 hours, all to the latest trending song. But, if you want to be able to really load your body without the core being the linchpin that falls apart, there are better ways to do it.
1. First of all, you probably don’t need to incorporate too many “core” exercises into your training. By doing things like squats, deadlifts, good-mornings, bent-over rows (and the list could literally go on forever) you are already loading the core substantially. Doing a bent-over single-arm dumbbell row requires an extreme amount of core activation to resist the forces of gravity and the dumbbell from pulling you down. If you maintain stiffness throughout the core, your core is getting an intense workout (in addition to the effects of the actual “row”).
2. Second of all, your “core” is not just your abs. It is your abs, obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor, and deep back musculature. When doing the latest version of an influencer crunch, you are subscribing to the belief that contracting your abs over and over again through a tiny range of motion in a single plane will get you a six-pack and a strong core. An SSB squat for example, will require great amounts of core activation while simultaneously training your squat. It is an anti-movement (meaning it resists a force rather than create one) and a more activity-specific way to train your core and all the while more time efficient.
3. Thirdly, there are other ways to help create core rigidity (which is the ultimate goal of bracing) without actually using “core muscles”. If you concurrently contract your lats and glutes (both of which attach to the thoracolumbar fascia in the lower back) you will help to create that rigidity.
So rather than doing your favourite Instagram star’s iteration of an ab workout, try implementing these strategies in your training and watch your strength and physique improve quicker than ever.