Blog written by VYBE.
Whether you've worked with a personal trainer or in a group fitness class, chances are you have heard your instructor or trainer tell you to "engage your core" or "tighten your abs." Such phrases usually refer to cinching abdominal muscles when performing specific exercises. However, not everyone understands what it means or how to do it.
Engaging your core is among the most misunderstood and incorrectly performed muscle actions. Most people think of it as a way of sucking in the stomach or tightening a six-pack, but that isn't it. Also, it does not mean that engaging your core is a complicated practice, since tools like a deep muscle massager can help you achieve it.
Thus, learning how to engage your core is critical when exercising since it offers numerous supportive and physical benefits. In this post, you'll know what it means to engage your core, involved muscles, how to do it, and its importance.
What Is Your Core?
Before getting insights into how to engage your core, it is essential to know what your core consists of. Most people consider the term "core" as "six-pack," but your core structure is more extensive. It represents all your abdominal and back muscles that play a role when performing specific exercises.
Several deep core muscles are involved when engaging your core. These are:
- Rectus Abdominis: It is a long, flat, and notable ab muscle responsible for the coveted six-pack, extending from the pubic bone to the sixth and seventh rib.
- External Obliques: These include muscles on both sides of the rectus abdominis that allow you to twist your torso, flex your spine, bend sideways and compress your abdomen.
- Internal Obliques: These muscles lie below the external obliques and serve similar functions.
- Transverse Abdominis: These are the deepest layers of muscles in the abdomen, wrapping around the torso and extending from the ribs to the pelvis. The transverse abdominis is responsible for stabilizing the spine, supporting abdominal walls, and compressing organs.
- Latissimus Dorsi: Also referred to as "lats," these muscles lie on both sides of the spine, running from below shoulder blades to the pelvis. They help stabilize the back, including the ability to twist side to side.
- Erector Spinae: These muscles are found on either side of the spine, extending the entire length of the back. They are responsible for rotating and stretching the back and side-by-side movements.
Other types of deep core muscles can benefit when engaging your core as well. These include pelvic floor muscles, the diaphragm, adductor muscles, back extensors, and hip flexors.
Engaging your core means bracing together the four critical abdominal muscles: the transverse abdominis, the rectus abdominis, and the internal and external obliques. When these muscles work together, they make your torso stabilize and stiff. This provides support to your spine when it twists or bends.
Why You Should Engage Your Core
Generally, engaging your core while exercising decreases your chances of sustaining an injury. It provides a sturdy ring of the musculature around the spine, keeping your vertebrae from extending or flexing too far, including bending further to one side or the other. That said, here are the key benefits of core strength:
Protects You Against Injuries
Deep core muscles are the focal point when exercising, especially when performing heavy lifting duties or exercises. These muscles provide trunk stability that supports your spine, protecting you from injuries. The National Center for Biotechnology Information study shows that core muscles led to notable performance benefits for athletic tasks.
Improves Your Balance
Your core muscles help you achieve a stable balance when standing or sitting still for several minutes or hours. The core muscles can provide the needed support to keep you steady even when knocked over.
Boosts Your Breathing
Breathing happens automatically, but it is all driven by the diaphragm, one of the core muscles in your body. Since breathing can impact your health, engaging your core keeps your diaphragm contracting and relaxing for perfect breathing. Besides, it helps support the middle and remaining stable and prevent injury when lifting heavy things.
How Do I Know If I'm Engaging My Core?
When engaging your core, you should experience a pressure sensation in your midsection, spreading uniformly throughout your abdominal wall. From the pelvis to the ribs, you should feel like your entire muscles are cinching in towards your centerline body. You may also feel like a tight belt around your center.
Once you experience a pull in your lower back when engaging your core, you're stressing the muscles in your back. Also, lying too hard often results in overusing your back muscles, leading to arching in your lower back. Flaring your ribcage out is another effect of overstretching your back muscles.
When engaging your core, avoid a "poofing out" stomach because the intent is to tighten in all the deep core muscles. Also, it is a bad sign if you feel breathless or unable to move when engaging your core muscles. However, a successful core engagement can be exhausting due to the coordination and muscular endurance it requires.
So, if you feel you are engaging your core precisely and become exhausted afterward, that is okay. However, spot-on core engagement isn't easy and will require adequate time to build up to for newbies.
What Does It Mean to Activate Your Core?
The word "activate" refers to engage or use. When learning how to engage your core, it means squeezing all of the muscles in your torso and holding them in a tightening position while breathing normally. Activating your core is quite different from sucking in your stomach. It should involve tightening muscles in the abdomen as well as the gut.
Activating your core is about working out safely and more effectively, since it focuses on the center of all body movements. Therefore, starting or engaging your core means having your muscles contracted enough. Suppose someone tries to push you over during your core engagement, the core will resist and keep you upright.
Top 5 Exercises to Strengthen and Engage Your Core
Now that you know what core engagement is and how to engage your core, the next step is familiarizing yourself with exercises that strengthen and engage your core. To start, try these exercises.
Adding the plank to your workout offers numerous pluses. But without a proper way of engaging your core, you won't see the benefits of core strength. Since you know how to engage your core, all you need is to follow the below steps to see why plank is the most effective core workout.
- Begin in a push-up position but rest on your forearms. Face your head down and ensure your arms are beneath your shoulders.
- Maintain the position, draw your abs to the spine, and keep your body straight from your shoulders to the ankle.
- Squeeze your glutes and quads to engage core muscles.
- Hold the position for 30-60 seconds, then lower your hips.
Squatting helps build and tone muscles, lose excess weight, and strengthen the core. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to activate your core with squats.
- Stand straight with your feet apart and engage your core.
- Bend your knees and push your glutes out.
- Make sure your knees are in line with the toes when in a squat position.
- Maintain the position for three seconds and rise back while squeezing your glutes.
The hip bridge is a core exercise that targets muscles in the lower back, abdomen, and hips. The practice helps strengthen these muscles, allowing you to engage your core. Here is how to do hip bridge:
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat.
- Put your arms down the side of your body with palms facing the floor.
- Activate your core and lift your hip upwards to create a bridge while squeezing your glutes. Keep your shoulders on the mat but with your hips and chest raised.
- Hold the bridge for three seconds and lower your body back to the mat.
Doing side plank exercises on both sides gives you an all-around workout to strengthen your lower back, hip, and abdominal muscles. Here is how to do side planks:
- Position yourself in a plank position and turn on your side with your forearm on the floor and your feet piled on top of another.
- Activate your core and lift yourself onto your forearm and the side of your feet. Keep your hips straight with your feet, head, and shoulder directly above your forearm.
- Hold the position for 20-60 seconds and lower your hips to the arm.
- Switch sides and repeat the exercise three times.
Mountain climbers are an effective exercise for overall fitness and one of the best to increase heart rate and burn fat. It also targets deep core muscles, making it a perfect activity to strengthen your core: Here is how to do mountain climber exercise:
- Start in a push-up position with arms straight and shoulder-width apart. Ensure your body is in line with your shoulders and ankles.
- Activate your core and bring either knee towards your chest and extend it back again,
- Repeat the action with the other knee.
- Continue to alternate your knees and repeat the action quickly for 30-second intervals.
Your core is critical for your general body's health and wellness. Having strong core muscles enables you to achieve outstanding balance, lift heavy things and protect yourself from injury. Therefore, learning how to engage your core through contracting muscles in your lower back and belly should never be intricate.
VYBE percussion massager can help you strengthen your muscles, making you engage your core, especially when you desire to work out. Contact us today and choose your preferred massage product we provide for fitness enthusiasts!
Contributing Writer: Yohannes Alemayehu