New post here from your Duncan chiropractor, but if you haven’t read last week's post of diaphragmatic breathing I recommend you go check that out first as we are going to build off the breathing exercises we went through last week. CLICK HERE to go straight to my previous post on diaphragmatic breathing. If you read last weeks post on diaphragmatic breathing, lets start applying it to core stabilization and bracing techniques.
What is bracing?
For the purposes of this conversation, bracing is the ability to stabilize your mid-section through the use of the surrounding musculature to improve safety and force transfer during exercise. Wow there is a lot packed into that sentence so lets break it down piece by piece.
What muscles do we use to brace?
When performing proper bracing techniques we should be using our surrounding abdominals, pelvic floor musculature, diaphragm, quadratus lumborum and spinal erectors.
How does bracing make us safer when exercising?
With proper bracing techniques we reduce the demand on the spine to stabilize and resist forces under stress. We do this through creating intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) by compressing air down into our abdominal cavity with our diaphragm.
Important Note: if you currently have issues with your pelvic floor musculature I suggest sitting this one out until you see a pelvic floor specialist and get the green light. Creating intra-abdominal pressure increases the stress on the pelvic floor muscles which may not be appropriate for you at this time.
How does bracing help with force transfer?
If we look at an hour-glass, the weakest point (where it would break under stress) is the middle where the circumference is the smallest. Therefore, if we try to brace our core by sucking in our stomach we are making ourselves into a human hour-glass! Consequently a pop can is a much more stable structure we should be trying to emulate. Thinking of our pelvis and our rib cage the top and bottom of the pop can, we want these two places to be level and stacked on top of each other for optimal form. Like a piston, we can now use our diaphragm to drive air and pressure down towards our belly button and this rigidity dramatically increases our ability to transfer force between our lower and upper body.
What does this look like?
For example, if we are doing a squat where we have a barbell on our back and the power to lift the bar comes primarily from our legs and hips. How do we then get the most power from our legs to the bar on our back? The answer is we have to create a really strong and stable center so that the force can travel through us like a car-axle.
The Valsalva Maneuver
Frequently weight-lifters use what is called a valsalva maneuver to quickly generate IAP. To perform this, take in a big breath of air before the lowering portion of the lift and press that air down with your diaphragm into their lower abdomen. The breath is then held when lowering to the bottom of the lift and then exhaled near the top of the lift. For those of you reading with more experience with this technique, I understand this is a very simplified explanation and there are multiple queues that can be used to enhance this technique. That's for another day!
Important Note: if you have low back pain or a history of discogenic pain please see a chiropractor or other low back specialist before performing this exercise.
Breathing "Behind the Shield"
Now there are some exercises/sports that demand constant tension, meaning there is no time where we don’t want to have some aspect of intra-abdominal pressure present. A good example a juijitsu fighter who needs to maintain tension but continue to breath at all times. If not performed properly we typically see these individuals run out of stamina or "gas out" when they can't maintain enough oxygen to their muscles. To start breathing behind the shield I tell my patients to try putting a belt loosely around their stomach at the level of their belly button. Create intra-abdominal pressure by performing a diaphragmatic breath. As you breathe in, you should feel that you have built up tension around the belt. Now try to keep that pressure on the belt while exhaling your breath.
Try to do this for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Typically when breathing out the breath will sound low like it is coming from your stomach. Once you have this down you can try to create higher points of pressure when breathing by putting your tongue to the roof of your mouth and forcefully contracting your bracing muscles (at a minimum your abdominals and obliques) which should produce a steady “hissing” sound when you exhale. This is frequently used in ballistic training such as kettlebell training to maximize power output.
Overall, breathing behind the shield takes a lot of practice especially when paired with exercise. For the majority of people I recommend that they go through this process with a professional that lines up with their goals. The power of your breath is a weapon few people take the time to master but it is crucial for getting the most out of our bodies.
If this post interested you and you want to get start right now harnessing the power of your breath CLICK HERE to book an appointment. For more information or resources please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.