If you want to improve your Deadlift, you HAVE to improve your bracing core strength.
That's really just the bottom line and it doesn't require any dressing up.
In my experience, that's the single biggest "impact" factor that can increase your deadlift numbers the fastest (and best protect your lower back during the lift).
It all comes down to the mechanics of the lift, out of the bottom when you're pulling the bar off the ground.
Now here's the thing...before you can work on improving your core bracing strength, it's critical that you know HOW to actually brace the core properly when deadlifting.
How to Properly Brace Your Core When Deadlifting (and WHY You Need to Do It)
The beginning of the Deadlift is the most critical phase of the lift...after all, if you don't get the bar off the floor, the rest of the lift doesn't really matter because there is no lift!
When you squat down to grip the bar, you want to keep your hips relatively high. You DO NOT want to squat down and get a lot of knee flexion (bending). Essentially you want to bend your knees only as much as necessary to get a grip on the bar.
It's this bottom position where the core bracing really comes into play. And it's also the time when people make their BIGGEST mistake when it comes to core bracing and deadlifting...they tighten up and "suck in" their stomach.
This is WRONG.
In fact, you want to do just the OPPOSITE.
You see, when you suck in your stomach, this contracts the rectus abdominis muscles (the six-pack abs). And the function of that strip of muscle is trunk flexion (think of what a crunch looks like - that's trunk flexion). This immediately leads to rounding of the lower back even before you start the lift under load.
And this will lead to deadlifting in a "cat vomiting" position...which doesn't protect the lower back or spine.
To properly brace your core for the deadlift, you want to brace your abs down and OUTWARD.
This not only braces and supports the abdominal area, it also immediately encourages lumber extension (the arch in the lower back), which is the position that best protects the spine and lower back muscles.
The visualization I like to use is very simple...just get into that bottom deadlift position and push your stomach against your upper thighs. Then HOLD IT.
NOW start the lift from there and keep your core braced solidly in that position. Keep that bracing until you're almost fully straightened up.
If you haven't used this technique before, you'll get a practically instant improvement in deadlift strength and lower back positioning.
In terms of breathing, this means holding your breath (or breathing through pursed lips, like blowing up a balloon) out of that bottom position to preserve that bracing position. If you breathe normally, you'll lose that bracing position and your core will cave in.
As your core bracing strength fatigues, you'll notice that you start to lose the arch in your lower back as you get the bar off the ground. THAT is when you end your set.
Exercises to Improve Your Core Bracing Strength
As you continue using this technique, your bracing strength will naturally improve. So if you don't want to do specific exercises to address it, that's fine.
However, if you want to take a more active role in improving your core bracing strength, I've got an exercise that targets that PERFECTLY I call Bar-In-Belly Loaded Core Bracing.
The side benefit of these exercises is that they will definitely teach you exactly how to properly brace your core during a deadlift. When you see the exercise, you'll know why your body simply has no choice but to properly brace the core (if you don't, the bar will fold you like a burrito).
You can perform these fairly frequently...in fact, if your core strength is really lacking, you can do one or two sets of one of these exercises at the end of every single workout (they're essentially the same). If you don't want to do them that frequently, once or twice a week will also yield excellent results.
The Bottom Line:
If you want to get the most out of your deadlifts, both in strength and in safety, put this technique to work right away. The stronger your core bracing is, the more weight you'll be able to lift and the healthier your lower back is going to be while you do it.
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