It is not a matter of “if” you will injure your back, but
“when” you will injure your back if you continually lift with an un-braced & unstable spine.
And it does not matter what you are lifting. Lifting any load, whether it be groceries, your child, a light dumbbell muscle snatch, or a barbell, it requires good stability of a neutral spine to avoid injury.
Most back injuries come from constant or repetitive poor biomechanics causing the back to initially give up rather than in one specific instance. Many think it’s that one bad lift but it’s more of the accumulation factor of bad mechanics.
Breathing. You need to figure out how separate breathing into your diaphragm (belly breathing) rather than breathing into your lungs (chest breathing). Breathing into our diaphragm and braced core before we lift something heavy will help to support and protect our spine.
Below you can see different postures (image borrowed from EliteFTS) with the correct one being on the far left where the diaphragm (top) is working directly in opposition of the pelvic floor (bottom). This is where pelvic tilt and chest position need to be addressed.
The air is transmitting the force, but just having a giant belly full of air is not bracing. You need equal and opposite forces pushing against each other to generate the stabilization function. Posture is key – if the pelvic floor and diaphragm are not working directly in opposition of one another, there will be a leak out the front or back. Commonly the leak is out the front with either a raised chest or anterior pelvic tilt or both.
Bracing isn’t hard you just have to remember to consistently do it. Bracing is simply the best way to engage the entirety of the core and to create stiffness in an area that normally does not have stiffness.
So bracing your core is the only way to create enough tension so that your core does not fold under loads. The only way to get your core into the action is to brace your core, and the only way to effectively brace your core is to breath your way to it.
Bracing is about filling your trunk with pressure (far left above picture) and this is exactly where your diaphragm comes into play.
Ideally the core is a balanced cylinder. Hyperextension and flared ribs are not what we want (3 above right pictures).
To effectively move heavy weights, you must use a bracing posture. First by tightening your stomach and then breathing into your stomach. With the diaphragm acting as part of the equation you now have a complete brace.
To practice, place your hands on your oblique’s right above your pelvis. When you brace properly, you will see your hands move laterally. Now put a hand on your stomach, breathe deeply into your stomach. You will feel your hand move, and your ribs should expand laterally, as well.
So “breathe into the brace” every clean/snatch/jerk/overhead press/deadlift and squat.