Strongman athletes are famous for their incredible strength and lifting prowess. However, what’s often underestimated is their meticulous attention to detail in safely bearing such heavy loads without injury. So, the 2023 World’s Strongest Man, Mitchell Hooper, decided to help out anyone who struggles with one of the most common injuries by demonstrating one drill which should eliminate back pain and strengthen the core.
Apart from the knowledge he accumulated as a professional Strongman, Mitchell Hooper also has a masters degree in Exercise Physiology, which is where a lot of his expertise comes from. Moreover, he is running his own Kinesiology Clinic in Ontario, giving further credibility to all of the advice he recently gave about back pain prevention.
As per Mitchell Hooper’s YouTube video, even just this one drill could solve back pain and strengthen the core. However, it must be perfected and utilized when performing any movements that could put pressure on the body. The drill in question is “Bracing” or active core bracing as Hooper calls it. It is a very popular technique in the sports of Strongman and powerlifting, which lowers the risk of injury and unleashes one’s true potential.
Mitchell Hooper’s Step-By-Step Guide To Active Core Bracing
The most simple explanation of the role of active core bracing is that it basically serves as a muscular support for the spine. Thus, when used properly, it should eliminate back pain, since it is usually caused by some kind of tension or pressure. Here is what Mitchell Hooper had to say about active core bracing at the start of his video.
“This is the number one most important thing that you can learn, not only to protect your back, not only for performance, but also for efficiency. The active core bracing is how you translate power from your lower body to your upper body.”
Mitchell Hooper carried on explaining that spinal flexion is one of the main causes of pain, and this type of flexion can often be seen in the gym and everyday movements. The best example of this is probably the rounding of the back when performing movements such as deadlifts or squats.
Hooper separated the core into three separate parts: the pelvic floor, muscles around the stomach and lower back, with the third part being the diaphragm. He stated that controlling the pelvic floor is not really his expertise, so he turned more focus toward active core bracing, which is more of a complete exercise. So, he immediately started explaining the drill to help learn bracing.
“Come onto the ground and lie with one hand on your sternum and the other on your stomach… Take nice deep breaths, have our stomach hand move, and have our sternum hand stay nice and still.”
Key pointers for the first step would be to breathe by contracting the diaphragm. That would mean breathing into your stomach as opposed to the expansion of the lungs. Speaking of which, Mitchell advises putting one hand on the sternum and the other on the stomach purely to feel if you are making the correct motion. So, if you are breathing correctly through the diaphragm, then your stomach hand should move, while your lungs and upper part of your torso should not.
“The second consideration is that we can’t just breathe into our stomach, because that creates a lot of force up and not any force down… So, not only do you want to have your stomach expanding, but you also want to have your lower back push into the ground.
So, one hand on the stomach and one hand under the lower back. As you take your breath, you want to feel this hand (stomach) rise as we simultaneously feel more pressure going to the hand on the ground.”
As can be seen in the quotes above, during the second step, the goal is to learn how to put pressure both outwards from the stomach and the back. So, Mitchell Hooper advises moving the hand from the sternum and placing it under the lower back. This should again help you feel if you are doing the correct motion.
“Once you are at that stage, we want to get to the stage where we can do that standing and loaded. The first stage to that will be onto all fours. We are going to use the same principle. You should be expanding the back towards the ceiling and the stomach towards the ground without twerking.”
For the third step, you should no longer be in the lying position but instead get on all fours. So, your palms and knees should be on the floor. The arms should be fully extended and the torso should be parallel to the floor. This is the penultimate step, as the next would be standing up completely and perfecting the technique.
“Then, we can stand up, and very simply, you are going to do the exact same thing. (Hand on) sternum and the stomach…
Now let’s talk about breathing patterns when we get to movements where you want to brace. We will stick to squats and deadlifts for right now… Let’s say we are squatting, we are going to take a deep breath (while in a completely upright position), then we squat. You stand up, and now is the time to breathe (when in an upright position again)… The more vertical you are the safer you are going to be.”
Firstly, Mitchell Hooper pointed out that you should not breathe while in the middle of the movement, but instead only when you are in an upright position. If you were to breathe out or in during the movement, you would lose the tension built up by the active core brace and thus increase the risk of injury.
Moreover, Mitchell Hooper encourages everyone to keep doing the drill, as improvement will not be instant. Instead, it takes time to build neural control, but once it is perfected, it will undoubtedly reduce the risk of injury and bring even more benefits. That being said, Mitchell advises doing the drill as frequently as possible, as it should speed up the learning process.
Watch the video here:
Mitchell Hooper has had one of the best rookie years in the history of Strongman, having become the World’s Strongest Man and the Arnold Strongman Classic champion. He also claimed multiple other prestigious titles and stood on countless podiums. Hooper is now preparing for his next appearances, as this season is far from finished for him. He is set to appear in the 2023 Rogue Invitational and the 2023 Giants Live World Tour Finals, but could have more lined up as well.