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‘Braces’ by Faye Burge, Senior Physiotherapist at Physio4Life

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Braces: worn by teenagers to make them feel self conscious (I mean to straighten teeth).
Braces: worn by the older generation to keep up said trousers (often suitably colourful)
Brace: a word you pray you never hear on a plane!!!
Brace: a self protective strategy, compressing the tummy muscles and stiffening larger muscles resulting in poor breathing technique and injury.

Place your bets as to which one we are about to have a wee chat about… sadly those that opted for the colourful braces – unlucky!

Wearing the suit of armour.

Alas ladies and gents I’m not talking medieval dress (sadly)! This is a compressive strategy normally used to illicit high amounts of force through out the body from explosive starts to taking a knock in rugby. This technique involves stiffening the larger muscles in the trunk and locking the trunk to the pelvis whilst constraining the shoulders and hips. In summary it locks forces into the core and stops it being transmitted thought out the body. It can be beneficial as a protective mechanism (we’ve all been crunched in a rugby tackle at some point, be it in a game situation or for some of my patients a standard night out!) Despite it saving your kidneys from being turned into mulct at high impact, it still causes an increase in my frown line when I see patients perform the characteristic “brace brace” position during basic movement assessments in the clinic.

The strategy is energy inefficient and unhelpful during fluent dynamic movements as its role is to restrict and constrain motion of the body and block forces. Performing lunges and lifting weights should not cause movement restriction or a lock down in your thoracic spine (middle part of your spine). In gyms there are always a certain amount of “manly” huffing, vein throbbing and if you’ve been to the P4L gym – rather interesting sound effects. Yet heaven forbid you should train how you wish to play/perform. Next time you train think about a) are you stressing your back muscles b) clenching your stomach muscles and c) only taking short sharp breaths?

A primary example are cyclists. For all the cyclist that pull up on the handle bars when trying to create power I beseech you to think twice. This technique is often used to stabilise the trunk region and create power. However, what it actually achieves is increasing abdominal compression which interferes with rib expansion and breathing therefore reducing cadence level as a cyclist struggles to complete smooth hip movements.

For those thinking this is sounding all to familiar try this when next in the park:

• Imagine pushing your hands away from your tail bone
• Lengthening along your spine and your trunk.
• Keep your breathing smooth
• Relax round you rib cage and concentrate on effortless continuous movement.

It would be great to know how you guys get on next time your are in the park/ gym/ training. Did you find it easier? Did your cadence improve (or not), or may be it reduced back pain or even gave you a PB? Either way come share your experience with the team at P4L.

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