Your core is more than just your abs. Your core includes all your pelvis, hips, and lower back muscles. These muscles stabilize your spine and pelvis and allow you to move freely from your head to your toes. A strong core is essential for any fitness enthusiast, whether you're just starting out or a seasoned pro.
Engaging your core during exercise is vital for two reasons: first, it protects your spine and pelvis from injury; second, it helps you achieve better results from your workout. There are a few different ways to engage your core during exercise, but the most important thing is to be consistent.
So, do you want to know some exercises to engage your core and make it stronger than before? It is the perfect place for that! We will tell you everything you need to know regarding how to engage your core and a couple of other things. Let’s get started!
What Does It Mean to Engage Your Core?
For many people, the term "engage your core" is little more than a fitness cliché. But what does it really mean to engage your core? And why is it so important? To understand the answer, think of your core muscles as a corset.
Just as a corset supports and shapes the waistline, your core muscles support and shape your entire body. A strong core assists you in maintaining good posture, preventing back pain, and improving balance and stability. It also helps you move more efficiently, whether walking, running, or doing any other type of physical activity.
In short, engaging your core means more than just crunches or sit-ups. It's about having a strong foundation for your entire body. And that's something everyone can benefit from.
What are the Core Muscles?
Core muscles are important for proper load balance within the spine, pelvis, and hip. They spare our backs from excess weight by supporting other areas of the body like abdominal viscera or joints along the kinetic chain, so they're key in supporting movement between the upper and lower halves.
The core muscles include multiple muscles; some of the central core muscles are:
The rectus abdominis, sometimes called the "six-pack muscle," attaches from the front of the pelvis to the lower ribs. Your spine flexes as you sit in bed or do crunches, which is the main movement it makes.
Since this muscle is the most superficial of the core muscles, it is less effective for maintaining spinal stability.
The internal obliques are on either side of the rectus abdominis, while the external obliques are outside the hips. Their main movements are side bending and trunk rotation, like when you swing a baseball bat, besides flexing the spine when working bilaterally.
The transverse abdominis is a rather deep abdominal muscle that wraps around the spine (lower six ribs). Its fibers wrap horizontally across the body to reach the linea alba or midline. Its function is to support the spine and is the deepest abdominal muscle.
When the transversus abdominis is contracted, the multifidus muscle co-contracts to give the lower back profound, segmental stability. Strengthening these muscles is frequently beneficial for those with persistent low back pain.
The pelvic floor muscles are like a hammock that supports your tummy when you inhale and press down on the diaphragm with every exhale.
In addition to acting as the deep spine and pelvic stabilizers, these muscles help initiate and terminate the flow of urine and excrement.
Your lower ribs' undersides are where the diaphragm connects.
In addition to being the primary muscle involved in breathing in and out, research indicates that it is also crucial for cardiac function, lymphatic return, controlling emotional moods, swallowing and vomiting, spinal stabilization, and pain tolerance.
Three muscles comprise the multilayered back extensors; quadratus lumborum, multifidus, and erector spinae. Typically, they join a vertebra to the vertebrae above and below or the spine to the pelvis.
Their main purposes are to support the spine when you bend forward and raise weights, such as while performing squats or biceps curls, spinal extension (bending backward), and postural support.
The iliacus and psoas major are two hip flexors that come together to form a single muscular belly, hence the name iliopsoas. They come from the iliac crest of the pelvis (iliacus) and the thoracic and lumbar spine (psoas) and insert into the femur or upper leg bone.
When you perform high knee exercises, for example, the iliopsoas contract to flex the hip or bring your legs closer to your body, however, it is regarded as a deep core stabilizer because it is also related to the spine.
Together, all these muscles work to keep the spine and pelvis stable and to resist the movement of the limbs.
How to Engage Your Core
Depending on your goals, using your core muscles can mean various things. For instance, when performing sit-ups, different muscles are activated, and they fire in a different order than when attempting to maintain balance while standing on one leg.
Additionally, the sensation your muscles produce when you contract them can vary based on several variables, including whether you're pushing or pulling weight and standing, sitting, or lying down.
Regardless of how, when, or why you use your core, it's critical to understand that these muscles work in coordination throughout the movement. They don't operate independently.
To have a truly strong and functional core, you must be able to use it in any scenario and movement, giving your moving body dynamic stability and spinal support. We'll talk about the four main strategies for activating your core.
You use your core muscles as the prime movers when performing classic ab exercises like crunches or back exercises like the superman.
For instance, during a crunch, your rectus abdominis and obliques shorten and contract concentrically to pull your ribs toward your hips while lifting your shoulders and head.
These are used to move or speed up the body.
Eccentric contractions are employed to slow down the body's force or motion. They usually occur with a concentric contraction on the opposite side of the joint and are lengthening contractions.
For instance, if you're slouching while working at your desk, straightening and lifting your spine will cause two contractions: concentric contractions in the spinal extensors and eccentric, or lengthening, contractions in the abdominals; both of which are crucial for core function.
An abdominal brace is an isometric contraction of the abdominal wall muscles that do not cause your spine, ribs, or pelvis to move or alter the position.
It protects the spine when transferring big loads, like when lifting weights.
According to research, abdominal bracing is more effective for engaging the superficial abdominal muscles.
When you concentrate on bringing your navel to your spine, you perform the abdominal draw-in motion, sometimes referred to as abdominal hollowing. The most effective way to think of this form of contraction is as a dynamic component of your exhale, employed for stability, such as bracing.
According to the research above, drawing in or hollowing the abs is more efficient than bracing for activating the transversus abdominis and deep spinal stabilizers.
There are strong advocates for stabilizing contractions, but the best functional core is one that is proficient in bracing and hollowing techniques and employs each as needed.
Related Article: Five Moves to Tone Your Abs and Build Core Strength
Core Activation Exercises
There's no doubt that everyone wants to get toned, sexy abs. And while there's no magic bullet for a six-pack, engaging your core muscles can help improve your posture, protect your spine, and make everyday activities easier. But what exactly is the "core," and how do you activate it?
The core muscles are the deep abdominal muscles that wrap around the spine and the muscles of the pelvis and hips. To activate your core muscles, you need to engage them all at once; brace your midsection as if someone is going to hit you in the stomach and tuck in your hips.
Here are a few simple exercises that will help get you started:
There's something so satisfying about a plank. It's simple yet challenging. It requires both strength and balance. And it can be done just about anywhere. Here’s how to do it:
- Step backward while crawling on all fours.
- Raise your body on the toes.
- Ensure your elbows are directly beneath your shoulders.
- You have two options: interlace your fingers or flat your palms on the floor.
- Maintain your forward-facing posture for 30-60 seconds.
- Repeat as many times as necessary.
The hip bridge is a popular exercise you can perform at home without equipment. The move works your glutes, hamstrings, and core and can also help improve your balance and flexibility. Here’s how to do it:
- Your feet should be flat on the ground, about hip-width apart, with your knees bent.
- Keep your hands down on the floor right next to you.
- By tightening your hamstrings and glutes, raise your hips off the floor. You can also use resistance bands for stability, especially if you're new to this.
- Hold for a few seconds, then gradually return to the beginning position by lowering your hips.
- Perform 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions.
Pilates is a special form of exercise that emphasizes controlled, fluid movements. It is often billed as a low-impact workout, but it makes no mistake. It can be challenging!
The key is to concentrate on quality, not quantity. Each pilates move engages the core muscles and promotes proper alignment. As there are countless pilates exercises, we need to focus on the one that engages the core. One such exercise is pilates one hundred; here’s how to do it:
- Lay face-up.
- Legs should be raised halfway toward the ceiling, then lowered to an angle.
- Raise your head while extending your long, palms down, arms alongside your body.
- As you breathe in for five counts and out for 5 counts, pump your arms up and down.
- Repeat this breathing rhythm 10 times, holding the same position.
The farmer's walk is one of the most underrated exercises around. It's simple, effective, and can be done just about anywhere. But don't let the simplicity fool you. It is an actual test of strength and endurance. Here’s how to do it:
- Stand erect with feet shoulder-width apart. Your arms should be at your sides.
- Set up some dumbbells on the ground.
- Grab the dumbbell with both hands while squatting a little.
- Return to a standing position by bringing your shoulder blades back and down.
- Take a forward step and begin moving. Keep your shoulders back, your core firmly engaged, and your head up and straight.
- Walk at least 20 steps.
Mountain climbers are a type of exercise that can provide a full-body workout. Though they might look easy, they actually require a great deal of strength and endurance. The main muscle groups worked during mountain climbers are the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core.
Here’s how to do it properly:
- Make a high plank position. Put equal amounts of weight on your hands and toes.
- Your hands should be squarely beneath your shoulders, shoulder-width apart, your back flat, and your core engaged. Your neck ought to be straight.
- Start now by swiftly bringing your right knee to your chest.
- You can change your legs by bringing one knee in and returning the other to its initial position.
- You shouldn't have sagging hips.
Related Article: Kettlebell Workout: 12-Week Workout Plan for Stronger Core
1. How to tell if your core is engaged correctly?
The easiest way to determine if your core is engaged correctly is to perform a plank. If you hold a plank for at least 60 seconds, your core muscles are engaged correctly.
2. How do you engage your core all day?
There are a few different ways to engage your core all day. You can do simple exercises like crunches or planks or incorporate dynamic movements into your daily routine.
A few examples of dynamic core exercises include Russian twists, Pilates saws, and mountain climbers. No matter what exercises you choose, focus on proper form and breathing to get the most out of your workout.
3. How do you keep your core engaged while you're breathing?
To keep your core engaged while breathing, you must focus on keeping your stomach pulled in. It will help keep your abdominal muscles tight, which will help keep your core engaged.
Additionally, you can try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, which will help keep your core engaged as you breathe.
4. What happens if you don't engage your core?
If you don't engage your core, you may experience back pain and discomfort. Additionally, you may be unable to lift or carry as much weight as you would if you had a strong core.
So, to engage your core muscles and get the most out of your next workout, focus on using those powerhouse core muscles we discussed earlier. We’ve also mentioned some fantastic exercises to activate those muscles so you get the most out of your time at the gym.
And don’t forget, keep breathing! When you do all these things together, you’ll be engaging your core like a pro in no time. Ready to give it a try?
- Ghaderi, Fariba, et al. “Effects of Stabilization Exercises Focusing on Pelvic Floor Muscles on Low Back Pain and Urinary Incontinence in Women.” Urology, vol. 93, July 2016, pp. 50–54. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.urology.2016.03.034.
- Kim, Byeong-Jo, and Su-Kyoung Lee. “Effects of Three Spinal Stabilization Techniques on Activation and Thickness of Abdominal Muscle.” Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, vol. 13, no. 2, Apr. 2017, pp. 206–09. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.12965/jer.1734900.450.
- Kocjan, Janusz, et al. “Impact of Diaphragm Function Parameters on Balance Maintenance.” PLOS ONE, vol. 13, no. 12, Dec. 2018, p. e0208697. PLoS Journals, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0208697.
- Lee, Ah Young, et al. “Pelvic Floor Muscle Contraction and Abdominal Hollowing during Walking Can Selectively Activate Local Trunk Stabilizing Muscles.” Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, vol. 29, no. 4, Jan. 2016, pp. 731–39. content.iospress.com, https://doi.org/10.3233/BMR-160678.
- Lifshitz, Liran, et al. “Iliopsoas the Hidden Muscle: Anatomy, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” Current Sports Medicine Reports, vol. 19, no. 6, June 2020, pp. 235–43. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0000000000000723.
- Lynders, Christine. “The Critical Role of Development of the Transversus Abdominis in the Prevention and Treatment of Low Back Pain.” HSS Journal, vol. 15, no. 3, Oct. 2019, pp. 214–20. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11420-019-09717-8.
- Madokoro, Sachiko, et al. “Effect of the Abdominal Draw-In Maneuver and Bracing on Abdominal Muscle Thickness and the Associated Subjective Difficulty in Healthy Individuals.” Healthcare, vol. 8, no. 4, Dec. 2020, p. 496. www.mdpi.com, https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare8040496.
- Vincent, Heather K., and Kevin R. Vincent. “Abdominal Bracing for Minimizing Excessive Pelvic Motion During Running.” Current Sports Medicine Reports, vol. 17, no. 4, Apr. 2018, p. 111. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0000000000000469.