How to Brace and Breathe Properly for Weightlifting
The first thing you need to do before starting any exercise is to make sure that your body is properly prepared. If it isn’t, then you will not perform well at all!
So, what are some things that you must consider?
First of all, you must have a strong back. Your spine needs support so that it doesn’t collapse under its own weight during the lift. Secondly, you must have good posture. You cannot lift heavy weights if your shoulders don’t stay up high. Thirdly, you must have good flexibility in your legs and feet. These three things will allow you to move freely throughout the range of motion without pain or discomfort. Finally, you must have a healthy mind and body! A strong body is only as strong as its weakest link; therefore, it’s vital that you keep yourself mentally alert and physically fit!
You may think that these are just common sense recommendations, but they really aren’t. Many lifters fail to take care of all three factors because they’re too busy worrying about their own problems rather than focusing on others’ needs. For example, if you have a weak back, then you’ll probably get injured sooner or later.
And if you injure yourself while lifting weights, then you won’t be able to continue training as much as you would like.
So how does one go about strengthening these three factors?
Well, the first thing you need to do is to get a good coach or personal trainer who can help you with correct form and posture. If you’ve been lifting incorrectly for quite some time, then it’ll be nearly impossible to fix it on your own. Your best bet is to start all over again with proper coaching. The second thing you need to do is to use supplements to help enhance your body’s performance. There are tons of different kinds of supplements out there, so it’s really just a matter of finding the right ones for you.
How to Brace When Deadlifting
One of the most common causes of lower back injuries in general, and while deadlifting in particular, is poor spinal positioning. When you’re about to lift a heavy weight off of the ground, it’s critical that your body be prepared for it. If not, then a significant amount of force can be transferred to your spinal discs, potentially causing a herniated disc, which can put you out of commission for weeks!
Therefore, in order to perform the lift without putting your back at risk, it’s important that you learn how to brace yourself correctly.
The first thing that you need to do is to get into position. Stand with your legs slightly wider than your shoulders, with your feet pointing out at a slight angle. The wider stance will give you more stability and keep you from falling forward when the weight gets heavy.
Bend down and grip the bar just outside of your legs. Squat down low enough that you can grab the bar, but no lower! Keep your back upright and bend at the knees. Tuck your head forward and down so that it’s aligned with your spine. This will help you keep your head in position and prevent it from snapping back during the lift.
With the bar grabbed, brace your core as tight as possible. Draw your abdominals in and push your ribs/chest out. This will lock your body into place and give you the strength necessary to lift the weight off of the ground.
With this done, you’re ready to begin the lift!
How to Spot and When to Spot
When you train alone in your home or in a small gym, then you aren’t obligated to help another lifter even if they’re struggling with a heavy weight. But, when you’re at a crowded gym or participating in a group training session, then it would be a social faux pas to not help someone in need. In these situations, you’ll be obligated to spot for other lifters.
What is spotting, and how is it different from helping?
Well, when you’re helping someone, you’re giving them hints or tips on how to perform the exercise. For example, when spotting, you’re literally taking some of the weight of the bar off for them by holding it in place so that they can complete the lift. In a way, spotting is more hands-on than just helping.
How to Help/Spot a Lifter
As mentioned above, when you’re helping someone, you’re giving them tips on how to lift correctly. When spotting them, you’re taking some of the weight off of the bar for them so that they can complete a rep. It’s important to know when to help and when to spot, because if you make the wrong choice, the lifter could get injured.
Here’s what you should do depending on the circumstances.
Only give advice while they’re in their weakest position, i.e. the lowest part of the lift.
This is when they’re weakest and it’ll be least distracting for them. Also, wait until they’ve given a signal that they need your help, such as a louder call for assistance or body language that suggests that they’re struggling with the weight.
Ideally, you should have a systems, such as a nod or a specific phrase that the lifter can say to let you know that they need help. Even if you do have this planned out, however, never assume that the person actually read your mind and knows that they’re supposed to vocalize with you. Always wait until you hear them ask for help before stepping in to give assistance.
Also, be aware of how they grip the bar. If they’re using a mixed (both) grip or if their palms are facing away from them, then don’t spot them. The risk of the bar twisting in their hands and causing a loss of control is too great and could lead to injury.
This rule doesn’t apply to those who use a double overhand grip though because it’s much harder to lose control of the bar this way.
When to Stop Helping or Spotting
Once you’ve got a firm understanding of when you should and shouldn’t be giving help and spotting, you’ll also need to know when to stop. This is important because, as touched on above, helping too much can hinder the lifter’s own development. As a guideline, only provide assistance on exercises where they’re struggling on the lowering portion of the lift.
On exercises like the bench press where the struggle is mainly on the way down, don’t help them at all. Here are some other rules to follow:
1. If at any time they ask you to stop helping, then do so immediately.
Repeatedly asking for help can lead to bad form and hinder rather than help their development.
2. If at any time they complain about pain, then stop helping them immediately.
It doesn’t matter if they think they can keep going or not, if they’re in pain then you need to stop helping them. Pain is never a good thing and is often a sign of impending injury.
3. If you find yourself constantly helping the same person over and over again with the same exercise, then it’s time to switch things up.
This could be with a different exercise or by altering how you help them so that they have to struggle more or help themselves more.
4. Finally, if you find yourself changing the guidelines outlined above for any particular person, then it’s time to stop helping them completely.
If even one of the above rules is consistently being broken due to feelings or misplaced motivations, then you need to resign from being that person’s spotter and allow them to struggle.
5. Remember, lifting is supposed to be hard.
If it isn’t then you’re not going to get anywhere.
Safety and Spotters
If there’s one thing that you take away from this article, it’s that safety should be your number one concern when spotting. You need to remember the rules at all times and never put your own ego before the safety of the lifter. When this is your mindset, then you’ll always be sure to have a long and successful spotting career.
So, what are you waiting for?
Sources & references used in this article:
WARNING! Stop Wearing A Weightlifting Belt For Back Pain! by W BELT – squatuniversity.com
Effects of back support on intra-abdominal pressure and lumbar kinetics during heavy lifting by ML Woodhouse, RW McCoy, DR Redondo… – Human …, 1995 – journals.sagepub.com
3 Key Benefits Of Wearing A Weightlifting Belt by J Stoppani – bodybuilding.com
Kinetics and energetics during uphill and downhill carrying of different weights by B Laursen, D Ekner, EB Simonsen, M Voigt… – Applied ergonomics, 2000 – Elsevier
The effect of an abdominal belt on trunk muscle activity and intra-abdominal pressure during squat lifts by SM McGill, RW Norman, MT Sharratt – Ergonomics, 1990 – Taylor & Francis
Diaphragmatic breathing: the foundation of core stability by EB Smith, AA Rasmussen, DE Lechner, MR Gossman… – Spine, 1996 – journals.lww.com
Effect of soft lumbar support belt on abdominal oblique muscle activity in nonimpaired adults during squat lifting by N Nelson – Strength & Conditioning Journal, 2012 – cdn.journals.lww.com