February 12, 2019
For folks who frequent fitness classes or work out with a personal trainer, you’ve probably heard the term “make sure your core is engaged” at least twice in every class you’ve ever taken.
While these words are coming most often from an inevitably ripped instructor, there’s a good chance you have no idea what that means or how to do it. There is good news: just being able to stand means you almost definitely have enough muscle to engage your core upon request.
But before we delve into how to engage the core, it’s important to define the core. Because, no, it’s not just abs — whether they’re visible or not.
The core is your abs and back muscles working together to stabilize your torso during movement, Popsugar explains. It helps transfer power from your lower body to your upper body and back again.
While that sounds pretty straightforward, what’s going on inside your body is rather complex.
You have four layers of abdominal muscles, and the deepest layer, the transversus abdominis (TVA) wraps around your waist like a cummerbund. Or you can think of it like a muscular corset connecting the ribcage to the pelvis. On top of the TVA, you have your internal and external obliques, which criss-cross your torso, kind of making an X; these muscles also help with twisting. The final layer is your rectus abdominis, aka the six-pack muscle, which helps bend your upper body forward, also known as flexing your spine.
Weightlifting is a good example of when keeping the abdominals contracted is of paramount importance. Performing heavy lifts can wreak havoc on your back if your abs are not contracted, Livestrong explains. Conversely, runners should keep their abs contracted during a sprint to help prevent compression in the lower back from all the impact, Livestrong adds.
According to Popsugar, the easiest way to find your TVA is by getting on all fours, a position that will help gravity work your muscles.
In this position, focus on keeping the torso still as you pull your abs to your spine as you exhale. Keep your abs pulled away from the floor and keep breathing. This is the sensation you want to take into almost all exercises.
But you can also practice engaging your core while doing squats, according to Livestrong. You’ll want to stand tall and slightly tuck your pelvis. Inhale, then exhale, contracting your abdominals. As you inhale again, begin to lower down into a squat, bending at the knees and hips and sending your butt out behind you, like you're sitting down on a chair. Maintain this abdominal contraction as you rise and lower with each squat.
For some extra tips and visual instruction, check out this video demonstrating how to engage your core in nearly every exercise: