What is ‘core’? What does it actually mean when coaches say, “engage your core”?!
I hear a lot of confusion or complaints from clients saying they honestly don’t know how to engage their core. The usual scenarios that happen when I ask clients to engage their core? They either suck-in their belly, or pull their belly button towards their spine.
But what happens when they have to do a workout movement, let’s say a squat? Their backs arch so much, knees cave in, until they feel a lot of load on their lower back. I can’t count how many times I’ve almost gotten a heart attack watching clients do a squat with just a dumb-bell, I can feel their knees about to give out or their spine about to break in two. Dramatic? Just this once I have an excuse to be dramatic, cause I fear the worst!
Before we do any exercise, we must understand what ‘core’ really is.
Imagine your core is like a foundation of your house. We need a very sturdy base in order to build a house on it. Without it, over time, the house will crumble.
Our core includes your external obliques, internal obliques, transversus abdominis, rectus abdominis and pelvic floor muscles.
In simpler terms, core activation means using your abdominal muscles to help you perform any movements. During exercises, if the core is not activated you’re more prone to injury because those muscles act like a protective wall or protective casing for your internal organs, that stabilizes the body and helps support your spine while maintaining your posture.
Types of core activation?
Have you been to yoga, pilates or weightlifting classes where they might use fancier terms like ‘T-zone activation’? Do you also notice that they will teach and asked you activate it from the start? There are many types of techniques to help you activate your core in all of the classes:
|Yoga||Static pose||Boat pose
Happy baby pose
|Pilates||Spinal position + imagination to engage core||Neutral spine
|Weightlifting||Control breathing + movements||Squat
How to activate?
Does everything I said above makes sense? Let’s make it clearer by doing things step by step. If you are gonna do it now, please make sure you’re not at work rushing those deadlines..
Find a safe place, and:
- Lie down on your back.
- Bend your knees, feet hip distance apart.
- Place your fingers just inside your hip bone.
- Practice breathing in and out slowly for about 3 times.
- As you inhale, feel your rib cage expanding. As you exhale, press your entire back against the floor, make sure your lower back is not arching, tilt your pelvic and imagine trying to stop yourself from peeing.
- You should feel your muscles hardening or protruding with your finger when your core is activated.
- Don’t feel it? Try again and make sure you’re not arching your back.
- Still don’t feel it? Try coughing and you should feel the muscles working.
Why activate your core?
Would you want a house without walls? Your core is like a corset that protects your spine and your organs. It assists in every movement that we do.
If you do find that every time after exercising, you get back pain or knee pain, let’s be clear – this is the pain that is not considered as muscle soreness.
You’re probably overworking your lower back to assist in your workout.
You want to do a perfect squat, you need strong core, you need to feel your pelvic floor stabilizing, and all those muscles working together in order to improve your squat. Squatting is not just a leg workout, it is a full body workout.
WHY do I emphasize a lot on squatting? Cause from my experience, this exercise is what a lot of people do whenever they workout, also in their everyday life. Most of my clients come in telling me that squatting only works on their quadriceps which is the front of the thighs, and that their lower back hurts.
Upon learning the techniques of proper core engagement during a squat, my clients actually feel the power from the feet, the drive from the floor to the hip, pelvic floor and core tightening and stabilizing to bring themselves up to starting position.
The same as when you’re doing your planks. You do not arch your lower back when you’re doing a plank.
If you’re doing a plank and you feel that your lower back hurts more than anything, please do it in front of a mirror to check your form.
Your pelvic might be tilted anteriorly that causes your lower back to arch thus making your plank worthless.
Tips for forearm plank:
- Lie face-down on your mat. Place forearms on mat with elbows aligned below your shoulders and arms parallel to your body at shoulder width. Lift up to a plank position.
- Make sure your body is parallel to the floor, this means, check that your butt is not up high or you’re not dipping your hip.
- If you’re arching or you feel a tension on your back, tilt your pelvic or bring your tailbone down to the floor.
I am proud to tell you that, I gained my abs without doing any ab workout. Having to be able to engage your core during ANY form of exercise is truly remarkable. You just feel stronger, so much more in control and more empowered.
So, practice practice practice strengthening or engaging your core. It will save your life in the long run.
P.S.: Please don’t randomly ask me to show you my abs. I might be bloated or have eaten a little too much.