A Comprehensive Guide to Engaging Your Core

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Core challenge. Horizontal shot of a young sporty female working out her abs doing crunches at the gym.

Even if you’ve never seen a workout programme, read a fitness magazine, or stepped foot in a gym, you’ve heard the phrase “activate your core” at least once in your life. It’s sometimes softly encouraging, and other times it’s yelled as you finish your last rep.

You may, however, be unsure about what your core is, what it means to engage it, and how to go about doing so.

The muscles that surround your trunks, such as your abdominals, obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor, trunk extensors, and hip flexors, make up your core.

For balance and activities like lifting weights and standing up from a chair, your core offers stability to the trunk. It also gives you the freedom to move your torso as needed, such as while reaching for your seatbelt or swinging a golf club.

Additionally, core muscles are used in regular breathing, posture control, urine, and faeces.

Your diaphragm is responsible for allowing air to flow into and out of your lungs when you exhale and inhale. Your core muscles engage to maintain your trunk upright when you sit up straight. They’re there to start and stop your business when you use the restroom.

What are your core muscles?

Your core muscles are comprised of several muscle groups.

  • Rectus abdominis
  • Internal and external obliques
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Pelvic floor
  • Diaphragm
  • Back extensors
  • Hip flexors

Exercises for engaging your core

Basic abdominal stability exercises are listed here to help you engage your core. They aren’t exhaustive, but they can assist you in understanding how to engage your core muscles.

The abdominal draw

  1. Lie down on your back, knees bent. You can also do this while sitting up straight.
  2. Imagine bringing your belly button to your spine while you suck in your stomach. Although you should be able to breathe, the muscles surrounding your abdomen and sides may tighten. To make sure your back isn’t arched or pressed into the ground, don’t move it.
  3. Hold the position for 5–10 seconds. Relax. Repeat.

The plank

  1. Start with your hands and toes in a pushup position. If this is too tough, you can lean on your knees and elbows for support.
  2. Keep your buttocks in line with your body and draw your abdomen toward your spine. You should be able to feel all of your abdominal muscles working.
  3. For 20–60 seconds, stay in this position.

It’s important to note that this exercise puts high loads on your spine. Therefore, if you have back pain, it’s advisable to refrain from this exercise.

The side plank

  1. Turn on your side with one foot on top of the other and your elbow on the ground.
  2. Lift your hip into the air, keeping your side perpendicular to the ground and relying on your forearm and the side of your foot for support.
  3. Maintain proper foot, hip, and elbow alignment. Keep your shoulder above your elbow as well. You should feel the obliques in your lower side working.
  4. For 20–60 seconds, stay in this position.

The bird dog

  1. As if you were a table, kneel on your hands and knees.
  2. Maintain a flat back by not arching up or sinking in.
  3. Begin by extending one arm in front of you until it is parallel to your head and torso.
  4. Then, in line with your torso and arm, extend the opposite leg out. If your hips are turned out to the side, make sure they face down toward the floor. You should be able to feel your abdominal and back muscles functioning.
  5. Hold for 5 seconds, then switch arms and legs and repeat.

The bridge

  1. Lie down on your back, knees bent.
  2. Squeeze your buttocks and lift them off the ground while keeping your trunk and pelvis together.
  3. Hold for a total of five seconds.
  4. Relax and place your box on the floor. Repeat.

What does the core do?

Stabilization, balance, respiration, and bowel and bladder control are all activities of your core.

Trunk stability

Your core muscles engage to keep your trunk stable and support your spine during tasks like lifting something over your head, picking something up from the floor, or pushing or dragging an object.

Weightlifting and athletic endeavours such as judo, running, and soccer require these muscles. Injury risk is reduced when your spine is stable.

Balance

When you’re standing still, as well as when your balance is tested dynamically, your core muscles help you keep your equilibrium.

Breathing and trunk stability

The diaphragm is an essential muscle in respiratory control. It lines your lower ribs and features an inverted “U” form.

It flattens out when it contracts, making room for the lungs to expand when inhaling. When the diaphragm relaxes, the lung cavity is compressed, forcing air out of the lungs, similar to how bagpipes work.

Bowel and bladder control

The pelvic floor muscles aid bowel and bladder control, allowing you to urinate or defecate.

Incontinence is a condition that arises when these muscles are weak. In many cases, however, these muscles can be strengthened to help avoid or manage this illness.

The bottom line

Contracting your trunk muscles to offer stability for your trunk in static situations and during dynamic motions of the extremities is what it means to engage your core. Balance, lifting, pushing, pulling, and general movement are all performed by these muscles.

A strong core can help you maintain your balance, reduce your chance of injury, and support your spine during strenuous motions.

Your core muscles play a role in the stability and mobility of your spine in general. They’re the “heart” of all your body’s movements throughout the day.

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