Deadlift: Proper Form – Abdominal Bracing - Upright Health

Deadlift: Proper Form – Abdominal Bracing

Welcome to the "Deadlift: Proper Form" series! Maybe you've just started lifting weights. Maybe you're a trainer who wants to learn the nitty gritty details about the deadlift. Whatever the case, welcome!

In this article, I'm going to focus on "abdominal bracing" and its importance in proper deadlift form

I'm going to explain:

  1. What abdominal bracing is
  2. How I troubleshoot abdominal bracing in the deadlift
  3. My favorite exercises to improve abdominal bracing in the deadlift

So what is abdominal bracing?

Abdominal bracing is a technique used to protect and transmit force through your midsection during physical activity.

Abdominal Bracing Neutral Spine Runner Running

Abdominal bracing involves using the muscles around your midsection to contract together. This is the “brace”.

Abdominal Bracing Cylinder Transverse Plane Rotational Forces

For example:

When you’re running, your body is absorbing the impact of each footfall. A small amount of abdominal bracing would be appropriate here.

Hip Flexion Oblique Sling

When you’re lifting a heavy barbell off the floor, your body needs all the help it can get to prevent the weight from imposing itself on your posture. A high amount of abdominal bracing would be appropriate here.

Deadlift Abdominal Bracing Neutral Spine

Different scenarios. Same need for (some amount of) abdominal bracing.

Easier said than done.

So read on.

How do you perform abdominal bracing?

You tense your abs as if you’re helping a friend push a car. Or as if someone is going to punch you in the stomach.

Tense Abs Punch Stomach Bracing Cue

In practice, it doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

In fact, slapping an athlete’s belly to teach them to reflexively brace is a tactic that my strength coach peers and I have used successfully time and time again.

It’s my go-to. Simple and effective. Because like I said, it doesn’t get much more complicated than that.

Where it gets complicated is how you maintain abdominal bracing... when your limbs are moving around your torso.

Such as when you are deadlifting.

If you are by a barbell at the moment and would like to practice abdominal bracing, check out JTS’s excellent tutorial.

I have independently come to the same conclusions regarding everything they have to say about the deadlift.

The rest of this article is to help you troubleshoot your abdominal bracing, in greater detail.

How I break down the abdominal bracing in the deadlift

So in the deadlift, I break down mastering abdominal bracing into two parts.

I look to see whether a client can maintain abdominal bracing while:

  1. Setting up for the deadlift
  2. Completing the deadlift
Proper Deadlift Sagittal Plane

In other words:

Can a client maintain abdominal bracing during hip flexion (setting up for the deadlift)?

As well as while hip extension (completing the deadlift)?

Closed Chain Hip Flexion Extension

Hips flexed vs. Hips extended

I make this distinction because the obstacles to maintaining abdominal bracing can be very different in one scenario versus the other.

So depending on what a client struggles with at any given time, I’ll modify my protocol for them, accordingly.

Example A – While Setting Up for the Deadlift:

If a client’s HIP EXTENSORS are chronically SHORTENED…

Posterior Pelvic Tilt Tight Glutes

Neutral pelvis vs. Pelvis with shortened hip extensors

Then at the bottom of their deadlift, their low back may round. In turn, their mid back muscles may overwork to hold their spine straight…

Which would then distort their spinal muscle engagement. Which would then distort their abdominal bracing.

Thoracolumbar Hyperextension TL Junction Posterior Pelvic Tilt

When the hip extensors are stuck shortened, the tailbone tucks under, and the low back rounds.

In turn, the mid back overarches to straighten the spine elsewhere.

This then distorts the relationships between all the muscles that surround the spine, which includes the abdominals.

Example B – While Completing the Deadlift:

If a client’s HIP FLEXORS are chronically SHORTENED…

Lumbosacral Hyperextension Tight Hip Flexors

Neutral pelvis vs. Pelvis with shortened hip flexors

Then at the top of their deadlift, their low back muscles may overwork to hold them upright…

Which would distort their spinal muscle engagement. And there, again, goes proper abdominal bracing.

Lumbar Hyperextension Overarching

When the hip flexors are stuck shortened, the hips stay folded and can’t fully straighten.

In turn, the low back overarches to make up for it.

This then distorts the relationships between all the muscles that surround the spine, which includes the abdominals.

The bottom line?

Proper abdominal bracing requires that all the muscles around your midsection are able to do their job…

Diaphragm Pelvic Floor Intra-Abdominal Pressure

...without having to contend with overactive/underactive muscles in adjacent regions.

Anterior Posterior Pelvic Tilt Tight Hip Flexors Glutes

Shortened Hip Flexors vs. Neutral vs. Shortened Hip Extensors

My favorite ways to improve abdominal bracing for the deadlift

Now let’s say I’ve just coached a client through abdominal bracing.

Different people learn in different ways. So I may have to use different coaching cues for different people, to teach them to perform the same task.

However...

If it's clear to me that they're unable to perform a task due to muscle strength/flexibility/control issues... then there is no magic deadlift coaching cue that can resolve that.

In that case, to improve their abdominal bracing in the deadlift, I will prescribe supplemental work.

For issues during the setup of the deadlift (i.e. during hip flexion)

My favorite exercise is the “pigeon pose”.

Pigeon

Remember:

At the bottom of a deadlift, if the hip extensors are stuck shortened...

Posterior Pelvic Tilt Tight Glutes Loose Hip Flexors

...then abdominal bracing is compromised (because the rest of the spinal muscles are thrown off).

The pigeon pose is my favorite exercise to address this scenario.

However...

Due to the complexities of the human body, a client and I may need to explore additional courses of action to produce the desired results.

But whatever route we do explore, I still keep my eyes on the prize — getting them to master abdominal bracing at bottom of the deadlift (i.e. in hip flexion).

Why?

Because nobody gets to skip this, if the end goal is proper deadlift form.

——————

For issues during the completion of the deadlift (i.e. during hip extension)

My favorite exercise is the “lunge pose”.

Lunge

Remember:

At the top of a deadlift, if the hip flexors are stuck shortened...

Anterior Pelvic Tilt Tight Hip Flexors Loose Glutes

...then abdominal bracing is, again, compromised.

The lunge pose is my favorite exercise to address this scenario.

However...

Like in the previous scenario, this alone may not always be enough to produce the desired results. So if necessary, my client and I will explore more courses of action.

But whatever route we do explore, I still keep my eyes on the prize — getting them to master abdominal bracing at top of the deadlift (i.e. in hip extension).

Why?

Because nobody gets to skip this either, if the end goal is proper deadlift form.

——————

That wraps up my approach to troubleshooting abdominal bracing during the:

  • Setup of a deadlift​
  • Completion of a deadlift

For proper deadlift form.

Implement and enjoy.

vincent with back pain from the deadlift

Keep getting injured during the deadlift? 

Tired of injuries derailing your training?

Our program teaches you fundamental principles and key drills for injury-free deadlifting. 

SHARE THIS

About the Author

Vincent's first passion is powerlifting. Over the years, his desire to master his body and mind have led him into deep explorations in stretching, mobility, and mindfulness.