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Bracing - The Valsalva Maneuver

In the last post - I spoke about learning to breathe and breathing through movement. This is what you're likely to do 99% of the time!

Again: breathing helps with normal pelvic floor function, stabilizing the spine and has a host of other benefits that I mentioned in the last post.

So then why have you been told time and time again to 'hold your breath' every time you're lifting weight? It's a popular misconception that anytime we are under load, we need to 'brace' and 'hold our breath'.

In this article - I'm going to explain how to brace correctly. This technique should only be used when under maximal load (i.e you need to recruit all of your muscles in order to complete the task at hand/ 90%+ of your maximal capacity). Because of the higher level of intra-abdominal pressure, this technique is also not advised for anyone that is pregnant.

Ok, remember this image from last week:

You're going to apply the same breath technique to start:

  1. Rotate the pelvis toward the ceiling so that you can press your lower back FIRMLY into the ground.

  2. Breathe in through your nose filling air into your belly, hips and back.

  3. Bonus points if you can feel your breath applying pressure into your upper back and chest.

  4. Now - Hold this breathe. Think about consciously forcing that air to stay put.

  5. Squeeze your glutes and come into a glute bridge.

  6. Relax your hips down and then exhale.

A great visual example I like to reference is a pop can. A closed can has pressure inside at 360° - it's nearly impossible to step on the can and crush it. If there is a hole in one or both sides of the can, it becomes much easier to crush. In the photo below - on the left side, I have a 'hole' in my pop can. On the right, I'm creating 360° pressure to support and brace my spine.

Take a look at this video - can you see the steps I take to brace for a heavy lift?

  1. Tuck my pelvis under

  2. Breathe deep

  3. Hold my breath

  4. Lift and exhale at the top

P.S - this was 342# at one of my favourite meets in Squamish! Happy Lifting!

- Coach Lisa


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