Before starting to exercise, any exercise whether it be walking, running, weight training, HIIT training, it is important to initiate a bracing sequence. A bracing sequence in simple terms is setting up proper body mechanics and engaging your core.
When we “brace” ourselves we are getting into a neutral spine position, we are activating our core to put less strain on our back and joints, and we are able to use more torque or force effectively to enhance performance.
When should we be using a braced stance?
It really should be something you practice all the time to be honest. It is a good habit to get into even for standing in one place for long periods of time. As you practice it you are actually simultaneously strengthening your core as well.
This is the bracing sequence that I use step by step:
1)Stand with feet shoulder width apart and pretend you are splitting the ground below you with your feet, screwing them into the ground. Toes should ever so slightly be pointing out to the side. This is going to prevent your knees from falling inwards which is very hard on the joint especially if you are walking around this way.
2)Roll your shoulders back and tuck them down away from your ears with your chin slightly tucked in.
3)Take a big breathe in and draw your abdomen in and up. Picture a string pulling your belly into your spine then squeeze your abdominals. Don’t suck in but squeeze instead. Exhale but continue to squeeze.
You are now braced.
A good way to check for neutral spine is to place one thumb on your sternum and one thumb just under your belly button. If your hands are parallel to each other up and down you are in neutral spine.
If you are performing an exercise you will first inhale and start bracing when you extend or before you lift, then exhale and squeeze as you flex or lift/push/pull or whatever exercise you are performing. Exhaling will also give you more force behind the move.
If you are running or doing cardio. Practice the braced position before you head out. As you are running try to remember to activate those abdominal muscles periodically during the run. Even when walking try to periodically think of engaging your core. Every little bit will help you to become stronger and give you more support.
For a more thorough read on proper body mechanics and techniques a good book suggestion is “Becoming a supple leopard” by Kelly Starrett.
Now start building that strong core!