The world seems to be obsessed with flat, sculpted stomaches and six-pack abs.
While there's nothing wrong with pursuing this popular aesthetic goal (get it, girl!), it is absolutely key to understand the deeper workings of the body's most important muscle group first, so you can work it effectively. Consider this your core guide!
Core 101 & Why Core Strength Is Key
Did you know the core is at the core of almost every movement you make with your body?! That's right —without core strength, you would have trouble doing simple tasks such as walking, sitting upright, or bending over to pick something up from the floor.
Contrary to popular belief, the core is not a single muscle, but rather a group of muscles.
The group consists of four key muscles that extend from the base of your head all the way to your pelvis: the traverse abdominis (or TVA) internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis (commonly known as the six-pack), multifidus and erector spinae (lower back).
A strong core acts as a stable base, or trunk, to support the entire body. It plays a vital role in balance and posture. The internal and external obliques, two muscles within the core group, even play a big role in the positioning of your ribcage!
Because the core is so deeply involved in a variety of basic movements, having a weak core can be high-risk for potential injuries.
Signs Of A Weak Core
Do any of these sound familiar to you? Common signs of a weak core include, but are not limited to:
-Lower back pain
-Sacroiliac joint pain (spine)
Do you ever find your hip flexors or neck take over during core exercises? That means your core is fatigued and that's ok! Stop, rest, then re-connect with your muscles and continue - safely. There is no benefit to continue when you're feeling it in your neck, hips or back in a painful way, you are only risking injury.
Working with a personal trainer 1-on-1 can help you identify your core weaknesses and develop a custom plan to get stronger, safely & effectively. Please reach out to us so we can help you reduce pain and get stronger, in a way that is appropriate for you.
What It Means to Engage The Core
When we instruct to "engage your core" in a Team Fit Body class, one thing for we sure don't mean is to suck in! Sucking in usually involves a posterior tilt of your pelvic which throws off your alignment and support system.
What you do want to do is 4 things:
Knit your ribs together: Commonly we pop the ribcage or stick out the chest but we need to draw the ribs together, in and down in order to stack our joints and allow proper alignment and engagement.
Draw your belly button to spine and spine to bellybutton: Make sure to draw your bellybutton in ONLY while also bringing your spine forward to your bellybutton; meaning, no scooping or sucking in!
Imagine bringing your hip bones together: We're trying to bring awareness to the lower region of the abdominals here which is usually more difficult to connect with. You're not actually bringing your hip bones together, but the idea is to visualize them as if they can come in and draw together.
Connect with your pelvic floor: Your pelvic floor is a sling of muscle connected with your core (and needs a lot more explanation than just this - stay tuned for future articles); for now, next time you use the toilet, try stopping your urine stream mid-flow - those are your pelvic floor muscles! During core work engage your pelvic floor drawing those muscles in and up as you exhale. (But be sure to relax them on your inhale)
Best Exercise To Build Core Strength
As we said above, there are multiple muscles involved when we refer to the core, For the sake of keeping things simple, we're going to focus on the one exercise that activates the most muscles in your core region - and even beyond your core!
If you guessed the Plank, you're right.
Plank engages not just the central core muscles but also your arms, glutes, and legs.
How to Plank
A modification to get started is to lay on your stomach and bring your elbows underneath your shoulders, keeping your arms out in front with hands shoulder distance apart. Engage your core (as discussed above) and lift your body off the mat from your knees up, supporting yourself on your forearms.
Make sure you aren't tucking your tailbone but instead keeping a natural curve in your spine, allowing for the bellybutton to spine and spine to bellybutton connection.
Use your glutes and legs by squeezing your buttocks and thighs, without tilting your pelvis. Imagine lengthening through the top of your head and through your feet as you breath in, and drawing that pelvic floor in as you exhale.
Looking for more exercises and tips to work your core? We're focusing on Core in our live virtual classes this March so be sure to check out a class such as our all-new Choreographed Core, using not just the musical beat but the different parts of the song to have fun while we build our core. Check our class schedule and try it out!
Activating The Core In Everyday Activities
Don't wait for your exercise routine to start engaging your core - there are a variety of ways to mindfully connect with your core during everyday activities, too!
As mentioned earlier, the core is critical for basic movements such as bending over, walking, and keeping the body stabilized/upright. This means you can even incorporate more core activation (and strengthening!) when you're even just walking.
Simply use the tips above of the 4 ways to engage your core while you go about your day - just make sure you don't hold your breath when you squeeze!
Getting stronger is important but remember in everything we do, balance is key. So don't forget to stretch!
Check out these 3 stretches you can do at your desk right now.