WSBB Blog: A Strong Back Needs a Strong Stomach

WSBB Education
Mon Dec 07, 2020

Tags: Bracing, Back Health, GPP

Time to Read: 2min

If you’ve spent twenty minutes around a squat rack at any powerlifting gym, you’ve likely heard the term “big air” get thrown around. This is because having the ability to properly fill your trunk with air allows you to brace yourself and maintain a neutral spine position during a heavy squat or deadlift.

There has been a lot of talk about breathing techniques, how to breathe into your stomach to properly brace, all of that.

One thing lifters fail to think about is what exactly are you filling up with air? Without adequate abdominal strength it doesn’t matter how technically sound your breathing is, you will still be unstable and weak.

One of the first, and easiest ways we improve trunk strength at Westside Barbell is by removing belt use from as many exercises as possible. Depending on your training experience, this could mean you can only do a few accessories without a belt, or you can train the entire workout without a belt. Do what you can initially, and gradually wear your belt less and less.

book of methods

This is not to say powerlifting belts shouldn’t be used at all, but removing the belt for a few lower days a month will play to your benefit when wanting to develop world class trunk strength. For main lifts, try deadlifting or squatting max effort without a belt. Beltless squats and deadlifts make for a good exercise variation, and you can track trunk strength improvement month to month by setting new beltless PR lifts.

For accessory lifts, beltless barbell rows, goodmornings, and front squats are excellent for building trunk strength.

Abdominal specific and general physical preparedness focused exercises are used at Westside Barbell every lower body training day. We will do standing abs, using a tricep rope or Spud strap attached to a cable machine to do high rep sets of standing crunches. This exercise depends heavily on technique to properly target the abdominals.

Additionally, sit ups are done using the GHR. These exercises are generally done for 4-8 sets, with reps being anywhere from 15 to AMRAP. Our general physical preparedness training also allows us to passively train our trunk strength.

We will walk a wheelbarrow, walk a yoke, and carry farmers' handles all without a belt. Abdominal and general physical preparedness type exercises can be done every training day if necessary, and are always done at least twice per week.

If your goal is to build world class strength, specifically world class squat and deadlift strength, a strong trunk is absolutely necessary. You would be challenged to find a 1000lb squatter or deadlifter who doesn’t have a massive trunk. When you increase your stomach strength you provide your back with the anchor it needs to lift the biggest weights your body possibly can.

Not only will your squat and deadlift be immediately impacted, you will also increase stability in your bench and overhead press. When it comes to lifting the heaviest weights possible, it often comes down to who has the guts to do it.