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Bracing the Core: When to and when not to

Stability is not immobility 

There's a need to stabilise the spine to protect the lumbar during certain exercises in the gym. 

This requires us to brace, to tighten the  core musculature and make the midsection immovable.

This is the primary "Squat Rack rule" and it exists for a damn good reason. 

The issue is this rule has made its way out of the weight room and into medical and popular thinking.

I was in the gym the other day when one of the younger lads started on his warm up.

He was doing some great stuff, it was a pleasure to watch.

But when he started on his crawling element,  he really struggled. He couldn't coordinate the motion very well, and as his build is that of a short spine and very long legs, he kept running out of room.

I don't mean the space in the gym, but the space to move his limbs around himself. 



He was applying "Squat Rack Rules" outside of the squat rack.

Many people utilise crawling as a way to create stability, mainly in the shoulder girdle and through the core.

And they're right to.

This is Lizard 1 done on the spot of floor space is a limitation:

But let's think about what stability is and why crawling helps.

Stability is simply the other side of the coin to mobility. 

In its simplest form, they mean the same thing. They both refer to controlling movement,  or rather, having control of movement.

Mobility tends to refer to large ranges of motion,  going end to end.

Stability tends to refer to controlling movement within the range, not worrying about end ranges.

You could say mobility is going into end range, stability is staying away from end range.

You can see by my muddled definitions, it's a relatively complex topic if we're talking about the semantics,  but the practical aspect is fairly simple.

Anyhow,  back to crawling and locomotion drills. 

These drills should help create movement through our spine.

Especially lateral flexion,  or side to side movement.

There is of course motion in all planes, but the most notable is that frontal plane side to side movement.

This gorgeous image is from:

This is a movement that tends to be under utilised in modern living and most gym training. 

If you try bracing your core as you crawl,  you will reduce,  even eliminate this flexion through the spine.

You rob yourself of the opportunity to stretch and release the muscles that contribute to and decelerate lateral flexion. 

You limit the amount of scapula movement available which potentially reduces the shoulder stability we are looking for.

You see scapula movement IS stability in the shoulder as a unit.

By bracing and consciously tensing muscles we are reducing the opportunity for muscles to reflexively contract to manage movement.

This reflexive muscle recruitment is what educates our nervous system and is why so many gain so much from crawling when they first add it into their practice. 

It's that kind of reflexive muscle recruitment that helps us more more athletically.

Which is why we train isn't it?

To become more athletic.

So, when should we be consciously creating tension and bracing?

During heavy, grinding lifts. Such as those that we are best served using the squat rack for.

Watch Seb here working his Zercher Squat:

As Seb ramped up the loads, he wouldn't have deliberately braced, he would have simply allowed his body work appropriately in accordance to the way that bar and movement requires. Now, as the load goes up and he's hitting the "money reps" he absolutely will be bracing hard to give himself the highest chance of success, with the least chance of hurting himself in this difficult lift.

The key point here is that most movement doesn't require consciously tightening the body, creating excess stability aka immobility. Bracing is a tool in our tool box to be used appropriately.

Sometimes we want to move and be slinky, as in crawling. Sometimes we want to be tight and almost robotic, as in Squatting heavy loads

In ballistic lifts, such as the Kettlebell Swings, Cleans and Snatches, there's a dance between being slinky and tight during the various phases of the lift. This is something Seb teaches you during the Beginner Kettlebell Course, which you can get details of here:

Stay mobile. 

But have the option to get tight as needed.


Dave Hedges

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