How to Strengthen Your Core for Better Workouts
If you’ve ever followed a workout routine, you’ve likely heard or read the popular term “engage your core” many times. It’s a phrase that’s used time and time again in the fitness world, and still so many people don’t understand exactly what it means and how to do it.
Core engagement is mentioned so much for the simple fact that it impacts the quality and form of most exercises. Without it, you may be doing an exercise completely wrong.
So, how can you achieve that proper core activation? In today’s blog, I’ll break down not only how to engage your core, but also give you all the necessary details you need to make each workout more effective.
What is Your Core Exactly?
Most people when they hear the term “core” think about abs. However, your core includes much more than just your abs, in fact, it involves all the muscles that connect and support your spine and pelvis.
That means your core includes abs, obliques, glutes, and back muscles. Specifically:
- Abs: Rectus Abdominus and Transversus Abdominus
- Obliques: Internal and External Obliques
- Hip Complex: Hip Adductors and Abductors
- Glutes: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Minimus and Medius
- Upper Back: Trapezius and Rhomboids
- Mid Back: Latissimus Dorsi
- Lower Back: Quadratus Lumbar, Spinal Erectors, and Multifidus
Now you have a clear picture on how complex the core actually is. The act of engaging your core often involves many of these muscles working together to achieve proper posture and balance.
The Meaning of “Engage Your Core”
Engaging your core means tightening all muscles related to your core (mentioned above) to keep posture and spine stable. Think of everything from your rib cage to pelvis locked into place.
Image as if someone was going to punch you in the stomach. Rather than sucking in your stomach, a big deep breath and tightening of the core are logical.
Once you’re able to find that engaged position, remember that you should always breathe normally with the core engaged. Breathing is super important, it’s an essential element of nailing the engaged core position, without it you can feel lightheaded, or even pass out from the lack of oxygen.
How to Engage Your Core
Now, you got a taste of how engaging your core works, but you may still not understand it completely. So, I will break down exercises you can use to find a braced core position. Once you find it and feel it, it will be a lot easier to practice during other exercises and activities.
Core Engagement in 3 Steps:
1. Lie Down on Your Back
Start by lying down flat on your back with knees bent and feet firmly place on the ground.
2. Take a Deep Breath
Take a deep breath through your nose and into your belly.
3. Exhale and Tighten Core
Exhale your breath while bracing your core. You’ll find that this position will maintain contact with the floor, and you’ll feel ab muscle engagement.
When properly activated, you should suppress your back against the floor and remove the natural arch of the spine in this position.
Exercises that Engage Your Core
Now, keeping your core activated through different exercises may be more challenging then the movements above. But, be patient and keep trying. Remember that every breath your take is just a new chance to re-engage those core muscles.
Here are 3 great examples of core engaging in training and in real life. You must try these!
1. The PLANK
Probably the best core-building exercise out there, the infamous plank! A perfect isometric movement primarily focused on core activation.
It gets even better, the plank will teach you how the glutes are an important part of engaging your core when used properly.
When in your plank bring the hips down, engaging the glutes and hamstrings, pressing heels away from your body.
As you engage the glutes, pulling the hips down in line with your spine, feel the motion connecting with your abs as you tighten and brace your ab muscles.
You see how your abs, glutes, and back all work together to pull of this classic core move. And don’t forget to breathe during your plank!
2. Proper POSTURE
Each day, most of us spend time sitting. You may find yourself starting to get comfortable, slouching and hunching in your chair.
If this is you, then a tight back, shoulders, or neck are something you suffer from. Try sitting with a good posture. Just grab a chair and practice. Now!
Start by sitting normally. Now, sit up, keeping your chest up, engage the core, and roll the shoulder down and back. This is an engaged core state, and you should be sitting like this throughout the day. It is not easy, but give it your best!
Finally, let’s talk about deadlifting. The most popular exercise for full body strength and composition. Learning to deadlift right is extremely applicable to everyday life, and you’ll start noticing this once you learn it.
However, it is also the most common exercise that people struggle with when it comes to injuries. Often people just overextend their back at the top, rather than just maintaining a neutral spine.
To maintain this neutral spine position, just brace the abs, and squeeze your glutes. Core engagement is activated, and you nailed the exercise!
Benefits of Core Engagement
1. Reduce Injury
Engaging your core is vital simply because it has many benefits for your body. A significant reduction in potential injuries is one of them.
The most common injuries today are related to the lower back. So bracing your core will help protect the spine, and minimize this from happening.
However, don’t forget to engage your core not just during workouts or sports, but also during every day activities such as bending down to pick up something, tie your shoes, lift groceries, etc.
2. Improve Balance and Stability
Core engagement can also improve balance and stability. You’ll easily notice this during your workouts and everyday life. Squats will feel easier, deadlifts will be smoother, and you’ll simply reach serious gains much easier.
If you’re ready to truly progress, it all starts with an engaged core.
3. Faster Movement and Flexibility
Lastly, engaging your core will also help with better movement. Most of your daily activities require a good posture, which is an engaged core position. Understanding how to brace the core can improve the way you carry yourself and move all day long.
An engaged core will also enhance workout performance, giving you a strong core foundation for powerful compound moves.