Setting Up For Success

by | October 17, 2017 | Fitness

Picture this:

You’re fired up to exercise.

You head to the gym.

Something goes wrong.

You bust your knees.

You can’t train for 6 months.

So much for getting yourself back into shape.

It’ll be at least 6 months before you can train again.

What If the problem could have been fixed with a simple set-up correction.

So many times when we do an exercise and something goes wrong, it can usually be traced back to the set-up.

The set-up for an exercise puts the muscles and joints in an optimal position to do the movement you are about to do.

Starting off from from the wrong position is like launching a rocket from a trampoline.

Starting off in the right position is like launching a rocket from a solid slab of concrete reinforced with thick gauge steel.

So, how do we go about setting up in the right position in order to be safe and hot at the same time.

The Bracing Sequence

We use the Bracing Sequence to put our clients in the right positions.

We stole this term and concept from the movement master, Kelly Starrett.

K Starr outlines the steps in setting up for exercise when you are standing on two feet.

So, you know, important stuff like squats, deadlifts, split squats, lunges, etc.

Note: A version of this can also be done for the upper body. Be sure to check back for that.

Here are the steps of the Bracing Sequence:

A. Toes forward or slightly out

B. Feet about shoulder width apart or wider

C. Point your kneecaps out the side

-you’ll also hear people say screw your feet into the floor

D. Squeeze your butt like you are trying to crush a walnut with your butt cheeks

E. Squeeze your abs like someone was going to whack you in the belly

F. Pull your shoulders back

-some people like the term “proud chest”

G. Keep your neck neutral

Let’s examine each one of these in a little more detail:

A. Toes forward or slightly out

A big part of bracing is being able to create tension against the floor. This activates more muscle that will be used in the exercise. The more muscle you use in an exercise, the more you rev up your metabolism and thus burn more fat.

In order to create tension against the floor, we need to have the toes forward or out slightly. The sweet spot will definitely vary from person to person but the ticket is that the feet should not be turned out so far that you cannot point your kneecaps out the side or screw your feet into the ground.

B. Feet about shoulder width or wider

A cue we like to use when squatting is to get your body between your legs. If you stay on top of your legs, the trunk and knees may come forward. Not that this is that much of an issue if you are able to control your trunk and your knees, but if you want to keep the emphasis on that booty, we need to get the body between the legs and the knees behind the shoelaces.

So, in order to do this, you need to have some room to get down and experience the sensation of getting between your legs.

Too narrow and you lose that feeling.

Too wide and there is a greater tendency for the knees to cave in. I don’t care how motivated you are to exercise, it is pretty damn hard to make your legs look hot when you have a busted ACL.

C. Point your kneecaps out the side / screw your feet into the floor

This is really where the tension comes in.

Keeping your feet glued to the ground as you rotate your kneecaps out the side slightly not only puts the hips in a good position to activate more muscle (and therefore fire up that metabolism), it activates the booty just right.

You also have the added benefit of keeping your knees safe from buckling – and, like we said – it’s pretty tough to make your legs look hot when you are walking around with a knee brace and crutches.

D. Squeeze your butt like you are trying to crush a walnut with your butt cheeks

In order to stay safe and look hot you need to put the hips/pelvis in the right position. This requires a concerted effort from both the glutes (as mentioned here) and the abs (as mentioned in point E below).

Squeezing the butt takes the pelvis out of an extended position (pictured right) and into a neutral position (pictured left)

(Photo from Precision Nutrition’s Procoach Workouts)

Also, when the hips are in the right position, usually your low back goes right along with it.

Love those glutes!

So, crush that walnut guuurl.

E. Squeeze your abs like someone was going to whack you in the belly

Good core and trunk muscle (abs, obliques, back) function are the foundation for good movement, not getting hurt and taking your strength to the next level. Without good function of these muscles, other muscles cannot do their job effectively.

For example, the glutes are less fired up when the abs are less fired up.

The added benefit is that working the abs when you do squats, deadlifts, push-ups and rows is a great way to maximize efficiency.

Core function is actually greater in larger muscle exercises than crunches.

So why not sneak in some extra core work when doing squats, deadlifts, rows and push-ups.

We’re talking about hotness and function here…who’s going to say no to that??

Squeezing the glutes (as in point D above) and the abs takes the spine out of the exaggerated lumbar curve position (pictured on the left) and puts the spine into a normal position (picture on the right).

F. Pull your shoulders back / Proud chest

Let me just say that pulling your shoulders back does not mean arching your back to puff out your chest.

Pulling your shoulders back should come from gently pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades.

If the shoulders and shoulder blades stay in position but your chest is puffed up, then you likely just arched your back, which also tells me something else:

YOUR ABS AREN’T FIRED UP!

Chances are if you can arch your back to puff up your chest then your abs are not being engaged.

Therefore, you would have missed out on point E above.

Again, shoulders back should come from pinching a pencil between your shoulder blades.

G. Keep your neck neutral

Eric Cressey of Cressey Sports Performance is super good at cueing this one. I learned how to dial this one in from a mentorship I attended of his.

The spine is found from the head to the tailbone. Incased in that spine is the spinal cord, nerves, blood vessels, etc.

So, we need to make sure the spine is neutral at all levels.

The neck is no exception.

What we tell our clients is to keep the distance from the chin to the chest the same all the way through the movement or to keep your eyes on a spot 6 feet in front of you.

Don’t just stand there

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Bracing position doesn’t apply only to exercise.

You can do this all day, every day…or just any time you are standing.

How about standing in line for groceries?

How about when deciding what type of peanut butter you want at Costco?

How about when watching your kid’s baseball game?

These times are an awesome opportunity to sneak in some “bracing” and fire up those muscles.

Wrap-up

Optimal exercise technique is necessary to turn on the right muscles, not get hurt, improve daily function and get the best bang for your buck when trying to change your body.

Many technical errors in exercises like squats, deadlifts and split squats can be traced back to the set-up.

Set up using the Bracing Sequence and you’ll be well on your way to getting the body you want.

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