Fitness pros always tell you to brace your core, but they really mean this: Save your spine. Stiffening your core while doing almost any exercise helps keep your spine safe safe and allows you to use heavier weights. Men's Health fitness expert Bill Hartman, P.T., C.S.C.S., shows how proper form makes a difference on the deadlift.
1. Prepare to be punched.
Most exercises involve your core, so protect it. Tense the muscles of your midsection and then try to make yourself as tall as you can. This helps keep your spine's highly flexible lumbar section stiff so it's naturally arched, not rounded or overarched.
2. Lock your shoulders.
Pull your shoulders down and back so your shoulder blades can't move. (In other words, flex your lats the way a bodybuilder does.) The strong muscles that control your shoulder blades originate on your upper spine, so this helps brace your upper back.
3. Squeeze your glutes.
Contracting your butt muscles "locks" the hinge between your sacrum and lumbar regions, making your lower back and hips move as one unit. Do it when you push your hips forward (like when you're rising from a deadlift) and during pushups and planks.
INCORRECT1. Your back is rounded.
Your lumbar spine is the most vulnerable spinal structure because the posterior ligaments surrounding it are weaker. Lifting weight with your hips too high puts a lot of stress on these ligaments; that can lead to muscle spasms and lasting lower-back pain.
2. Your shoulders are loose.
When you don't stabilize your shoulders, your back is more likely to round. The pressure then shifts the fluid in the center of the lumbar disks, resulting in bulges or disk herniations. "It's like squeezing one side of a water balloon," says Hartman.
3. You hyperextend.
By overarching your lower back, you overload the lumbar area. The result isn't good: stiffness, progressive arthritic changes, pain, or even stress fractures. So when you stand up, make sure you squeeze your glutes to avoid hyperextension.
Build muscle and strength. Find a weightlifting event.