‘Engage your core’, what does that mean? Why should I do?
‘Engage your core’, ‘suck your belly in’ or ‘squeeze your abs’ are terms repeatedly used by fitness professionals, including myself, but do we really think about what that means? Due to a limited time frame we never really delve into the benefits of building up a strong ‘core’ or how specifically to do it, in each training session.
So today I am drawing on my experiences as a gymnast, dancer and personal trainer to give you the low down on why you really should be engaging your core throughout exercise and how to do it.
Have you ever wondered how a particular dancer/gymnast/ice-skater effortlessly glides around the stage or floor? Well here is your answer in basic terms.
I have been taught from a young age in gymnastics and dance how to ‘shift my weight’, ‘stay on top of my supporting leg’, ‘find where my weight is’. All of these demands require you to connect your mind to your body. The individual tells their body to move a certain way and it responds correctly.
This is Mind-body connection is something innate to dancers and gymnasts. It is not, however, natural to everyone, which is why there is often difficulty when a non-dancer/gymnast is asked to engage his or her core.
So initially, I would suggest mindfulness as a useful tool for reconnecting the body to the mind, and incorporating breathing techniques into exercise.
So once the individual manages to connect to their core, why should they focus their time on building strength in that area?
1. Keeps you graceful – It helps with your ability to control your movement, particularly when you come across a difficult exercise or you are starting to fatigue.
2. Back health – It is estimated that four out of every five adults (80%) will experience back pain at some stage in their life. Back pain is the number 2 reason for long – term sickness in much of the UK.(http://www.backcare.org.uk/factsandfigures).
The ‘Core’ is made up of a group of muscles that begin with your ‘abs’ and wrap right around to your back.
A strong core will support your back in times when it may be vulnerable to injury.
3. Power – A strong core is the starting point in powerful explosive movement, such as lifting and jumping.
4. Balance – Our bodies have the potential to do a lot more than we think. If ever in a situation where your stability is compromised a strong core will enable you or increase your chances of staying upright.
5. Light on your toes – If you ever start to feel fatigued and tired during exercise, your core is there to get you through and ensure that keep exercising effectively and efficiently.
But how do I do it?
I have found this to be the easiest way to activate connection to the core:
1. Start by lying or standing up
2. Place your hands on your stomach
3. Take a deep breath in allowing the stomach to balloon
4. Start breathing out feeling the abdominal muscles pushing the air out your lungs
5. Keep breathing out until your lungs are completely empty, to do this requires more effort then normal breathing and so you should feel your abdominals fully contract/tighten.
This exercise can be used as a core activation exercise or throughout your workout.
What’s my ultimate core strength exercise?
It has to be pike handstands (influenced by my gymnastic days). I love playfulness of the movement, challenging your body’s ability to respond to the movement quickly and you feel like you are doing something really impressive.
For those still building up core strength an easier, but equally impressive, version can be done by using a Swiss Ball to support the legs.
About the author: Alice Bowmaker
Alice is an East London based, YMCA qualified personal trainer on a mission to inspire and motivate people to push themselves past their expectations and help them rediscover their love for the beauty and strength of their bodies.
She has a background in dance and gymnastics which he uses extensively in her training repertoire. She also holds memberships with REPs and NRPT.
You can contact Alice at www.alicepteast.com