Why Do Powerlifters Brace When Lifting?

Why Do Powerlifters Brace When Lifting?

When the average person sees a powerlifter squatting, a common question they ask is, ‘Why are they holding their breath? Should I be doing that?’

One of the biggest fundamentals of powerlifting is the seemingly simple, yet incredibly important “brace” aka the Valsalva Maneuver. This is what ‘holding your breath’ actually comes down to when performing the Big Three.

Like anything in life, there are proper ways and improper ways to use the All-Mighty brace. So let’s go over how to, why and mistakes down below.

What Does Bracing Do When Powerlifting?

While you can choose NOT to brace when you are strength training, you need to understand why it is happening and why choosing NOT to do it could hinder your training.

One of the most common analogies for bracing is the Pop Can:

  • The outside of the can acts as the ‘protective coating’. This represents the muscles that make up the core ie the abdomen and lower back areas.
  • The top of the can, where you drink out of, represents the diaphragm.
  • The bottom of the can represents the pelvis… where you… You know… hold your hips.
  • The liquid is the air you breathe in and fill your lungs with
  • The bracing portion of this is the combination of the carbonation and the sealing of the lid creating pressure.
  • This pressure makes it incredibly difficult to crush the can.
  • However, when you release the pressure (not Valsalva…ing) you can crush the can easily with one hand. IE Your body collapses under lighter weights

When you don’t have a good, solid brace, your spine and core are less stable and creates the chance to get injured.

Protect your body, brace the can.

How to Hold Your Breath Properly for Powerlifting

The secret to properly bracing starts with a ‘Pop Can’ that is in good structural order.

What this means is that your core needs to be in a relatively neutral position all of the way through your body.

This can be cued by a few different ideas:

  1. Your lower back should be in a solid, neutral position. This means that it shouldn’t be arched like a duck or tucked like you are afraid of the bar.
  2. Your ribs should be pointing down and slightly back.

When you get this ready to go, it’s time to hit that salsa of Valsalva maeuver.

First, you need to breathe DEEP. However, you need to avoid your chest/shoulders rising. To do that, think of breathing into your belly button instead of your lungs. You will also need to think about bringing in the air into your lower back, filling out that truck area. 

When your ‘Pop Can’ is full, make sure that you squeeze everything all of the way down and up. One good cue to help with this is tucking your lats into your back pockets.

The pressure that you get will let you set up strong and get the most out of your performance. When performing higher rep exercises you will need to take sips to make sure you don’t die. Don’t let it all out when you are lifting or your brace will hit a wall making it harder to finish your set.

Benefits of Bracing for Powerlifters

It allows you to maintain a TIGHT core section

After taking that initial breath and getting your core braced, your body creates a stable structure around the spine. This allows for your core to stay nice and tight as you perform what ever movement you have picked.

You Are Less Likely to Get Injured

If you are nice and tight through any of your chosen movements, it ensures that chance for a reduction in injury. A strong, stable spine with bracing has shown to ensure good integrity through the lift and a healthy lifter.

Bracing Maximizes the Efficiency of Movements

Bracing during the movement also allows you to maintain a solid, consistent position throughout many barbell movements like squats. Reduction of positional issues creates an ideal bar path which helps create efficiency through the lifts.

Increases the Weight You Can Move

This stability also helps increase the ability of the lifter to move more weight through the production of more force. This is because a stable system allows you to recruit more muscles so they aren’t fully being recruited to keep an ‘empty pop can’ from collapsing.

These four benefits of bracing can help you get more out of your training, leaving you to make more gains as you grow and change within strength training sports. It doesn’t matter who you are, you can benefit

Three Mistakes Powerlifters Make While Bracing

Not Filling Their Pop Can NEAR Enough with Pressure

New lifters or those new to bracing usually run into this issue the most. While experienced lifters can also use the reminder. They believe that they have filled their core and belt enough to keep the ‘Pop Can’ full, but they haven’t.

The best way to correct this problem is to practice bracing WITHOUT any weight on your back so that you can feel the absolute tightness of the lift.

Lifters may also have their belt just a hair to tight, restricting their breathing and making it hard to breathe. To correct this issue is to loosen the belt just a hair and see how it feels.

Not Breathing into Their Belly Button, but Their Lungs

When it comes to proper breathing and bracing, your torso needs to be in a super neutral position.

If an athlete can achieve a neutral position, however breaths into their chest, they will raise their shoulders high into the air and ruin the perfect position they have worked so hard for.

Again, with this, picture pulling the air in WITH your belly button instead of with your lungs. Pull down with your stomach to make sure you are leaving everything neutral and you will have a strong brace.

Nearly Faint From Holding Their Breath to Long

It’s as simple as that. When you don’t breath, you can lose your brace OR even faint under the bar, both of which aren’t great for if you want to stay uninjured.

This usually happens when you as the lifter start to do higher reps. Generally we recommend that when you brace and re-brace, it’s after 3-4 reps. But it also varies from person to person, so play around with it and have fun.


Final Thoughts

Like we said before, like anything out there, bracing properly takes time, practice and most importantly, patience.

Be sure that when getting into the right position, practice breathing into your belly without having your chest rise or fall. Press OUT and against your core, or if you have a belt fill that sucker up with brace.

Create the pressure in the Pop Can so that you are able to lift without collapsing. There is nothing that a full Pop Can can’t accomplish.

So next time someone asks what bracing is, just tell them that you have made the Pop Can stable.


If you are looking to follow and learn from some amazing people and powerlifters follow the links below or read this article for some great stories. Or if you are looking for programming, you can find one of our free programs here or you can reach out to one of our team members to see how to take your training to the next level.

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