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How do you engage your core?

Unlock the Strength: Engage Your Core for Optimal Fitness
Strengthen your fitness routine with core engagement techniques. Discover how engaging your core can improve strength, stability, and overall performance. Get expert tips and exercises to optimize your fitness journey. Start engaging your core today for a stronger, fitter you.

Unleash Your Full Potential: Engaging Your Core for Optimal Strength and Stability

 

 “Brace your core”, “engage your abs”, or “engage your core” you may have heard of this phrase even once in your life, and you may wonder what it means, how to engage your core, and why it is important to engage your core. The core comprises the muscles surrounding your abdomen and lower back. The muscles are abdominals, obliques, diaphragm, pelvic floor, trunk extensors, and hip flexors. Why is it important?

The core provides strength and stability to your trunk to maintain balance and posture during movements like sitting, standing, and weightlifting [1]. These muscles are also involved in breathing, posture control, urination, and defecation [2]. This article discusses your core, how to engage and core, and exercises that help you engage your core.

Your core and core muscles

Before you engage your core, it is proper to know the core muscles and their function. When talking about the term “core,” many people equate it with a six-pack. But the anatomy is much more complex. Core muscles refer to the group of muscles surrounding your trunk and lower back. There are 35 types of core muscles (major and minor). Core muscles help you balance and move [3], improves your abdominal strength and stability, back health. Following are some important core muscles

Rectus abdominis:

This well-known group muscle is famous for six-packs or abs. It is the front muscles of your trunk and responsible for bending[4] and crunch and when you do planks.

Transverse abdominis:

It comprises the muscles surrounding your lower back. It completely wraps your abdomen. It stabilizes your spine and hip, supports your abdominal wall, and compresses your organs. However, it is not involved in your back or hip movement.

External and Internal Obliques:

They are present on either side of your abs. Both types provide support to the sides and front of your core. They provide stability when you bend to the sides or rotate your abdomen. But your core muscles are not just a chiseled six-pack. Some other types of muscles help with stability and strength. These are: Pelvic floor (including abdominal muscles and hip flexors) Pelvic muscles are muscles attached to the area beneath the pelvis. This is also a part of the core muscles that helps control your urinary and bowel movements [2].

Diaphragm:

Attached to the underside of your lower rib, the diaphragm is an inverted U-shape muscle. The diaphragm controls your breathing, supports your trunk stability, and avoids injury [5]. It can also help you hold your breath by contacting isometrically, especially when lifting something heavy.

Erector spinae:

These muscles are located on each side of your spine and extend along the length of your back. These are also known as postural muscles and are always active to maintain each posture. These muscles help in extending and moving your back and side movements.

Back extensors:

These muscles extend from your spine to the pelvis. They support when you bend forward or square.

Is engaging your core beneficial?

Engaging your core is beneficial in many ways. It not only tones your muscles but also helps prevent injury and improve your workout performance. Following are the benefits of engaging your core:

• Prevent injury Engaging your cores protects you from injury.

Confusing, right? Well, your core muscles are primarily involved in maintaining the trunk stability that supports your spine and protects you from injuries[6]. Engaging your core also prevents shoulder and elbow dislocation and injuries [7]. Stress fractures of the vertebras are common in athletes and heavy-weight lifters. Engaging your core during exercises creates a ring of muscles around your spine that provide stability to your vertebras and prevent too much flexing and extension of your vertebras.

• Increase your performance Core muscles are great for athletes.

They help prevent muscles and bone injuries in athletes and weightlifters. On the other hand, they improve their performance. Short-term core stability training increases endurance in athletes alongside better performance[8]. A strong core keeps you active.

• Improve your balance and stability:

As describe in the previous section, core muscles are important for trunk stability. These muscles also help you maintain balance even when you are standing, sitting[9], or even when you bump into someone. A strong core can keep your torso and spine straight and aligned.

• Supports your breathing:

When you lift something heavy, your diaphragm automatically contracts. This action helps you stay stable and avoid injury during lifting. The diaphragm is involved in breathing. When it contracts, it gives your lungs enough space to breathe in.

• Improve your bowel and bowel control:

Weak pelvic muscles can result in incontinence. Along with the diaphragm, your pelvic muscles also help maintain spinal stability [10].

Engaging your core – what does it mean?

Your core keeps your body stable during any sort of exercise or movement. Engaging your core means having the muscles enough contracted that you can maintain your posture and stability even during sudden movements.  Engaging your core helps reduce the risk of injuries. If your muscles are toned, you can embrace any situation. Especially you can learn to breathe properly even during maintaining different postures and lifting weight.  Athletes and weightlifters need to engage their core to improve their performance.

Engaging your core – how and when to do it?

Engaging your core is important to build muscle strength and flexibility. But it is more important to understand when and how you can engage your core. There are some basic scenarios where you can engage your core and incorporate your core while doing daily activities. For example:

• Sitting – Straighten your back, sit up tall, and suck your belly button towards your spine. Engaging your core during daily activities like walking and sitting improves your posture[11] and builds strength.

• Breathing – The way you breathe directly impacts your health. Breathing exercises are part of other exercises such as meditation. Relax your shoulders, necks, and abs. Breath slowly.

• Weightlifting – Weightlifting is the most crucial time for engaging your core. While lifting heavy weights, pressure is applied to your biceps, abdomen, and back muscles. When you bend at your joints, spinal movement occurs. Doing squats, deadlifts, or even single-arm or leg exercises builds your muscles strength. And thus, helps prevent excessive arching of your back.

• Cardio – Cardio exercises engage the core in many directions with multiple movements. Cardio does not put your body at high risk of spine injuries. How can engaging your core during cardio helps you? It improves your posture and reduces the aches that might occur during or after cardio.

• Yoga – Positions like Tree Pose and Warrior pose require you to balance on one or both feet. This involves core muscles and improves your stability.

Exercises – 3 core engagement exercises that will help you:

Following are some basic exercises that help you understand how to engage your core muscles: The plank Planks involve your whole body during the workout. If you want a stronger core, then planks are the best exercise. But if you have back pain, then refrain from this exercise. How to do it?

• Begin with a push-up position; position yourself on all fours, i.e. elbows and knees, by placing your feet hip-width apart, and keep your neck in a neutral position.

• Squeeze your abs toward your spine and keep your buttocks in line with your body.

• Be in this position for 20-60 seconds. Then lower yourself to the floor. During this exercise, keep your legs and backs straight. • Repeat it 3 times.

The side plank Side plank exercise involves the quadratus lumborum. If this muscle is strong, it can help reduce the risk of back injury. How to do it?

• Turn to your side with one elbow and one foot on the ground and the other foot on top of the other.

• Use your forearm and the side of your foot to support yourself. Lift your hip in the air so that you are perpendicular to the ground.

• Align your feet, hips, and elbows. Feel the contraction of your lowers side obliques.

• Be in this position for 20-60 seconds.

• Repeat it three times and then switch sides.

The bridge A bridge exercise strengthens your gluteus muscles (butt muscles) and hamstrings. This is an alternate exercise for people with back pain who can’t do squats, as Gluteus Bridge doesn’t put too much pressure on your back. How to do it? • Lie on your back. Bend your knees, and your mist be feet flat. • Squeeze your buttocks to lift your hips off the ground while keeping your abdomen and knees in line. • Count to five. • Relax and Lie down on the ground. • Repeat for 10 times.

Final words Engaging your core does not only mean to maintain six-packs abs. It is much more than that. Engaging your core provides enough strength to support your abdomen and spine during movements that include dangerous positions. A strong core helps maintain balance, increase strength, and reduce the risk of injuries. Engage your core to build your strength and improve stability.

  References:

1.     Malátová, R., J. Rokytová, and J. Stumbauer, The use of muscle dynamometer for correction of muscle imbalances in the area of deep stabilising spine system. Proc Inst Mech Eng H, 2013. 227(8): p. 896-903.

2. Eickmeyer, S.M., Anatomy and Physiology of the Pelvic Floor. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am, 2017. 28(3): p. 455-460.

3. Özkal, Ö., et al., Assessment of core and lower limb muscles for static/dynamic balance in the older people: An ultrasonographic study. Age Ageing, 2019. 48(6): p. 881-887.

4. Bryant, C.X. and D.J. Green, ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science: For Fitness Professionals. 2011: ACE.

5. Hackett, D.A. and C.M. Chow, The Valsalva maneuver: its effect on intra-abdominal pressure and safety issues during resistance exercise. J Strength Cond Res, 2013. 27(8): p. 2338-45. 6. Hsu, S.-L., et al.,

Effects of core strength training on core stability. Journal of physical therapy science, 2018. 30(8): p. 1014-1018.

7. Silfies, S.P., et al., Critical review of the impact of core stability on upper extremity athletic injury and performance. Brazilian journal of physical therapy, 2015. 19(5): p. 360-368.

8. Szafraniec, R., J. Bartkowski, and A. Kawczyński, Effects of Short-Term Core Stability Training on Dynamic Balance and Trunk Muscle Endurance in Novice Olympic Weightlifters. Journal of human kinetics, 2020. 74: p. 43-50.

9. Örgün, E., C. Kurt, and İ. Özsu, The effect of static and dynamic core exercises on dynamic balance, spinal stability, and hip mobility in female office workers. Turk J Phys Med Rehabil, 2020. 66(3): p. 271-280.

10. Arjmand, N. and A. Shirazi-Adl, Role of intra-abdominal pressure in the unloading and stabilization of the human spine during static lifting tasks. Eur Spine J, 2006. 15(8): p. 1265-75.

11. Kim, D., et al., Effect of an exercise program for posture correction on musculoskeletal pain. 2015. 27(6): p. 1791-1794.

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