How to Engage Your Core (the Right Way)

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If you’ve ever worked out with a personal trainer or in a group fitness class, you’ve probably heard your coach or instructor say something along the lines of:

  • Brace your core!
  • Engage your abs!
  • Stable mid lane!

Other cues that trainers use include “pulling your navel toward your spine” and “abs flexing.”

While there are obviously a lot of ways to say it, these phrases all mean the same thing: Engage your core. All of these phrases refer to the act of tightening your core muscles to stabilize yourself or flexing your body for a particular exercise. In this guide, you’ll learn what it really means to engage with your core (it’s not just “attract”), how to do it, when to do it, and why it’s important.

Your Core, Defined

To know how to engage your core, you must first know what your core actually consists of. Many people equate the term “core” with “six pack,” but the anatomy of the core is more complex than you might realize. Your abs alone include four different abs, and then all the muscles in your back.

Here’s a look at the most important organs when it comes to engaging your core:

  • Rectus abdominis: The best known abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominis muscle is the muscle that makes up the desirable 6-pack. It’s a long, flat muscle that extends from your pubic bone to your sixth and seventh ribs. The rectus abdominis muscle is primarily responsible for flexing your spine.
  • Outside bevels: These are the muscles on either side of your rectal abdominis. Your external oblique muscles allow you to twist your torso, bend to the side, flex your spine, and squeeze your abdomen.
  • Inner skewers: Your inner obliques are directly below your outer obliques. They have the same functions.
  • Horizontal Abdominis: This is the deepest muscle layer in your abdomen. It completely surrounds your torso and extends from your ribs to your pelvis. Unlike other ab muscles, your transverse abdominis is not responsible for moving your spine or hips, but it does help stabilize your spine, compress your organs, and support your abdominal wall.
  • Latissimus dorsi: Often referred to as “muscles,” these muscles run along both sides of your spine from just below your shoulder blades to your pelvis. Pads help stabilize your back, especially when extending your shoulders. They also contribute to your ability to turn.
  • Erector spinae: You have erector spinal muscles on each side of your spine, and they extend the entire length of your back. These muscles are responsible for stretching and rotating your back, as well as side-to-side movement. These are considered postural muscles and are, to some extent, active all the time.

Your hip and glutes also contribute to core stabilization, but not quite like the muscles above.

You can gather from the multitude of muscles involved in attracting your core isn’t as simple as you might think — but once you learn how to do it right, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much you can do. how to get stronger in compound exercises like squats, clean and jerks, and deadlifts.

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What does it mean to engage your core?

People learn from mistakes — in that sense, it can be easier to learn to engage your core by understanding what Not do. Here are some common examples of core opt-out.

  • Back arch when you do shoulder presses or pushups
  • Your back sags when you sit down
  • Your lower back lifts off the ground as you try to “hollow” your body
  • You lean to the side when doing a shoulder press with one hand
  • You lose balance when doing single leg exercises

All of the above situations present weaknesses in different ways. The first example – arching the back while performing the shoulder press – is the easiest to analyze. When performing the shoulder press, you should be able to extend your arms completely overhead while keeping your back in a neutral spine position. If you can’t, your core muscles are weak, you haven’t learned how to engage and tense them, or maybe you have another mobility problem (discuss this with your doctor or physiotherapist). Whether).

How to engage your core

Engaging your core means flexing and tightening all the muscles in your core – four abs, adipose, longitudinal, hip flexors and glutes – to keep your spine secure and stable. Visualize everything from your rib cage to your pelvis: It will all look like a single, strong cylinder.

It’s not just “sucking in” your stomach

Often people think that “getting into your core” means “suck into your stomach”. But that’s really far from the truth; In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

To get your attention, imagine that you are mentally preparing for a hard punch to the stomach. You will not suck into your stomach. You will take a deep breath and tighten all your abdominal muscles. It can be helpful to visualize “stretching” your abs — bringing your navel up and toward your spine.

You can continue to breathe while working out: First, pull in your abs, then inhale and exhale, allowing only your rib cage to move. Your abdomen should be tight and full after the initial breath. After that point, you should be able to see your ribs move in and out as you breathe.

It starts with your breath

Breathing is probably the most important part of getting your attention because you have to know how to continue breathing as usual while keeping your core tense. Every time you breathe, you have an extra opportunity to work your core and build strong muscle mass from your ribs to your hips.

Consider professional weightlifters and Olympic weightlifters. When these athletes wear weightlifting belts to aid in lifting weights, their abdomens often bulge out over the top of the belt. This isn’t because they’re bloated or overweight — they’re using their breath to push against the belt, which provides an extra layer of support to the spine.

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Between working the core muscles and the belt’s feedback pressure on the core, weightlifters and Olympic lifters keep their spines secure when lifting extreme loads.

Why should you join your core?

For starters, focusing on your core will reduce your chances of injury during exercise. It creates a stable muscular ring around your spine to keep your vertebrae from bending or extending too far, nor from bending excessively to one side or the other.

Protection from injury

Squeezing your back into those positions puts undue pressure on the vertebrae and can lead to injuries such as lumbar spondylosis. a condition involving degeneration of the discs in your spine or joints. This and a similar condition – spondylolisthesis or stress fracture in the vertebrae – are relatively common among weightlifters. and athletes. Major inactivity during exercise has also been linked to shoulder and elbow injuries.

Having core strength, which you can develop with regular stretching (even without exercise), can also help relieve chronic back pain. Essentially, as one study puts it, “Core stability is a key component of functional movement, which is essential in everyday life and athletic activities.”

Besides injury prevention and functional mobility, engaging your core during exercise can improve your training performance, although this is not entirely agreed upon in the community. science because of a lack of research on the exact relationship between core stability and fitness performance.

However, many weightlifters find they can lift heavier weights as they flex their bodies, and runners often find they have better posture and less neck and back pain. than when they exercised their muscles during running.

When should you engage your core?

Your core activity is most important when your spine is capable of excessive flexion, extension, flexion, or rotation.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Engage your core when lifting weights

Weight training can be the most important time to focus on your body. When you flex in any of the major joints—namely the shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles—there is room for movement of the spine. Earlier, the example given was arching your back while pressing from above. Your core activity can prevent any cases of excessive curvature of the spine.

Another great example of when it’s important to engage your core is the deadlift. If you don’t contract before lifting the weight off the ground, your back may round and your shoulders may sag forward.

Breathing deeply and squeezing your abs can help you keep your back straight and your shoulder blades contracted.

Verywell / Snapwire

Engage Your Core During Cardio

You don’t have as much risk of spinal cord injury with cardio as with weightlifting because generally there isn’t as much opportunity to move the spine into dangerous positions. However, working your core during cardio can improve your posture and reduce any soreness you experience during or after a cardio workout.

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For example, when you’re jogging, focusing on your body can help you keep your chest high and your shoulders back. This can eliminate your overstretching neck, a common problem that can lead to neck pain and headaches. Stretching your body while running can also relieve some of the pressure from your lumbar spine, reducing or eliminating any pain you feel there.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Engage your core in an Ab . workout

You may find it confusing to engage your core during abs workout because there is so much movement going on in the torso. However, you may notice signs that you need to strain, the most common of which is high blood pressure — also known as arching.

When working out your abs, think about leaning your tailbone forward or squeezing your glutes. These two cues can help you ease the lumbar curve of your spine and tone your abs.

Engage your core all day

You can prevent poor posture (and the chronic pain associated with bad posture) by engaging in your core activities throughout your daily activities.

Practice mental preparation when sitting at your desk and when walking to and from your familiar locations.

You can also practice in other everyday activities, such as grocery shopping — try engaging in your core activity as you reach for something from the high shelf. It’s good practice that will carry over into your exercises!

Practice your core attraction

To familiarize yourself with core engagement, start with this strengthening exercise.

  1. Lie on your back on the floor, knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Extend your arms so they lie flat next to your body, with your palms on the ground.
  2. Press your lower back into the ground so that your tailbone is slightly raised.
  3. Breathe deeply, fill your stomach. Once your belly is full of air, squeeze your abs (while keeping your lower back pressed to the floor).
  4. Use your abs to pull your navel up and inward relative to your breath.
  5. Continue breathing, filling your chest with air. Your stomach will stay full the entire time.
  6. Take 3-5 breaths, relax and start the exercise again.

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