What Does It Really Mean to Engage Your Core?
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When you’re into fitness and getting those muscles of yours stronger, you might have heard about core muscles. But what does it mean when you hear the word, ‘core’?
If you’re thinking that your core muscles are basically the 6-pack abs you see on bodybuilders and fitness individuals online, you might be surprised to know that your core is composed of not just those muscles, but also includes the following muscle groups:
- Internal and external obliques on your sides
- Transversus abdominis
- Erector spinae
- Quadratus lumborum
- Pelvic floor muscles
Together, these muscle groups work to keep you upright. Without them, you will find activities as simple as walking or even standing a bit more difficult. After all, these muscles allow your spine to bend and move.
In this article, you will learn more about your core muscles, specifically why you should engage them, when you should engage them and even how to do it through 4 sample exercises.
Why Should You Engage Your Core?
Now, you might be wondering why should you engage your core. Aside from keeping you upright, what else is there about these muscles that make them essential?
For starters, your core muscles are crucial to every exercise you can think of, says Physical Therapist Laura Miranda. When your core is in excellent condition, you can do most, if not all of your daily activities without making unnecessary movement. You can do things better and more efficiently.
Moreover, Exercise Physiologist DeAnne Davis Brooks says that core engagement increases the strength and coordination of other muscle groups. This benefit allows you to perform better in activities, such as jumping and weightlifting.
When Should You Engage Your Core?
Apart from knowing the why, you also need to know when to engage your core. Like every other muscle group in your body, your core needs to rest every now and then. Adding exercises that specifically target those muscle groups to your workout routine is enough to keep them from weakening.
Michelle Razavi, a fitness and yoga instructor and co-founder of ELAVI, a protein snack company, says that engaging your core is not something you exclusively do during workout sessions. You also need to engage those muscle groups during your daily activities as they help improve your functional strength.
Therefore, don’t forget to engage your core when you’re lifting heavy items, sitting, doing yoga and even while doing cardiovascular activities.
How to Engage Your Core?
Now that you know the why and the when, you might be wondering how to engage your core muscles. One way to help you know how to do it is by bracing your body as if someone is about to punch your guts. Razavi also mentions that you can imagine pulling your navel up and in toward your spine.
Other ways to engage your core are by doing exercises that target specific muscle groups. However, it’s important to know what it feels like when you successfully engage your core.
Aside from what Razavi suggests, you can also try lying on your back with your knees above your hips in a tabletop position. According to Certified Personal Trainer Kira Stokes, squeezing your glutes and your core muscles so that your lower back presses into the floor may allow you to understand how it feels to engage your core.
What Does Engaging Your Core Feel Like?
Despite following the suggestions or tips of experts, you might still be wondering if you’re doing the right thing. The easiest way to know if you’re doing it properly is through knowing how your body feels.
Personal Trainer and Meditation Teacher Jason Williams says that you’ll feel a lift in the center of your body if you engage your core right. Moreover, you’ll also feel an elongation in the spine.
Fitness Trainer BB Arrington also adds that after you feel the lift, your trunk will become more rigid and a change in internal pressure as your muscles tighten.
Once you understand the whole concept of engaging your core, doing these 4 exercises will help you strengthen those muscle groups, which is essential if you want to go with your day-to-day activities without exerting unnecessary effort.
When talking about strengthening the core muscles, the Plank exercise is one of the first things that you might encounter. Moreover, doing this exercise is an excellent method of determining if they’re strong or not.
According to Canadian Natural Pro Bodybuilder Jeff Nippard, the following are the steps to doing a successful traditional Plank:
- Start in a push-up position. Ensure your elbows are directly below your shoulders and ensure you lift yourself up on your toes.
- Hold the position for 20 to 40 seconds.
Nippard also mentions that if you want to engage your core muscles even more, you can try pulling your elbows back towards your body to strengthen your abs further.
However, if you find it easy to hold the position for 40 seconds, there are other ways to challenge your body. One way is to extend the hold duration. However, it is possible that doing this method can bore you. Therefore, you can also consider placing weights on your lower back to add external resistance.
Hollow Body Hold
According to NASM-certified Personal Trainer Joanna Castro, the Hollow Body Hold is another excellent exercise that challenges your entire core. While there are other variations that exist for various reasons, the following are the basic steps to performing this exercise:
- Sit on the floor with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Ensure that you keep your feet together, rest your heels on the ground and place your hands on your shins.
- Engage your core and release your hands from your shins.
- Slowly lower your back to the floor while extending your legs out in front of your body as well as your arms above your head.
- Hold this position while keeping your head and shoulders lifted off the floor. Ensure that the sides of your feet are pressed together and maintain contact between your lower back and the ground to avoid overarching.
While the Hollow Body Hold exercise doesn’t require any fitness or exercise equipment, having a yoga mat can be an excellent cushion to prevent your joints from pressing against the hard floor.
Ab Wheel Rollout
Besides the Plank, doing the Ab Wheel Rollout is another wonderful exercise to add to your workout routine. According to Nippard, increasing your range of motion while doing this exercise can help make Plank easier to do.
Unlike the previous exercises, the Ab Wheel Rollout will need an ab wheel and a yoga mat or anything soft to cushion your knees.
- Start with both of your knees on the floor with the ab wheel in front of you.
- Tighten your core muscles and slowly roll the wheel forward until either your body is parallel to the ground or until the maximum range you can maintain the position.
- Squeeze your core tight and roll yourself back to step 1.
Depending on your fitness level, you can go for 8 to 10 reps for beginners, 12 to 15 for intermediate and 20 to 30 for advanced.
Another exercise that works well with Plank is the Russian Twist. According to NASM-certified Personal Trainer Aly Christofferson, doing the Russian Twist is great for individuals looking to engage their obliques and warm up their spine.
Moreover, this exercise provides you with bonus leg and hip workout, making it great for individuals who want to improve their muscle strength in those areas.
- Sit with your knees bent in front of you. Keep your feet flexed as well as your heels on the floor.
- Hold your hands to your chest and lean back until you feel your abdominal muscles engage.
- Afterwards, twist your torso from right to left. Remember to move slowly and maintain your breathing.
Ideally, you should aim for 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12. However, don’t forget to stop when you start experiencing pain anywhere in your body.
Keep Your Core Strong
Your core muscles are what keep your upper and lower body attached to one another. Therefore, you can expect them to work to some degree whenever you engage in physical activities.
Keeping them strong and fit by doing core and abs workout exercises is key to ensuring you go through your daily routine efficiently.
Speaking of fitness, having a tape measure is one of the most essential items you can have. After all, you use it to find out accurate measurements regarding your body. Check out the RENPHO Smart Tape Measure and discover its multiple features today!
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