Keeping your core engaged throughout your workout not only strengthens and tones your abs, but also protects your lower back and hips. It provides them with much-needed stability and control.
Specific exercises that target the abs make engaging the core seem easy. But others, like squats, back pulls, and stretching poses, aren’t intuitively turning it on, leaving you prone to injury and strain. Here are some simple tips that can help you activate your core in every workout and get the most out of your exercises.
Before you even begin your workout, take a moment to activate your mind-to-muscle connection in a calm state. Practicing and learning how to activate it when you’re not really doing anything will make it easier to tap into in the middle of a tough exercise routine.
Stand straight, with your feet hip-width apart and close your eyes. Place one hand on your belly and tune into your breath. Inhale and exhale deeply and, when you’re ready, inhale and lift your belly button, and feel your muscles engage and your ribcage close. Exhale and relax everything, letting your belly hang out.
Once again, inhale and engage, and then exhale and release. Repeat that three to five more times. After you’ve completed your cycle, inhale and engage, and on your exhale, keep the core engaged—don’t relax it completely. It might seem weird at first, but the more you repeat it, the easier it will become. Repeat it five to 10 times.
Exhaling and keeping your core engaged is exactly what you should be feeling throughout your entire workout, no matter what type of exercises you’re doing. This keeps the core strong and protects your lower back, hamstrings, and hips from taking over and becoming overwhelmed.
Never skip your warm-up, even if you don’t have time for it or think you need it. Warming up your body helps increase your blood flow, and it activates all muscle fibers and loosens up your joints and ligaments. This minimizes the risk of injury caused by sudden movements or any wrong or heavy moves.
During your warmup, you’re also preparing and activating your core for the entire workout. Focus on slow and steady movements. Target all areas of your body and feel each muscle contract and release as you perform your movements.
Twist It Up
Doing gentle twists at the beginning of your workout loosens up your hips and lower back. It also expands your ribcage and sends blood into your entire core. This warms it up for harder, tougher movements.
Use your inhales to extend your spine as much as you can, and your exhales to go deeper into the twist. This will make them as effective as possible. Stay on one side for as long as you did the other, always making sure to balance everything out.
In the middle and at the end of your workout, your body will be ready for even deeper twists. Add them to your routine to get all the benefits of a spine massage. And remember to always keep growing from your sit bones, as you feel your back lengthen.
Engage Your Core First
When you’re preparing for a specific exercise, you have to make sure your posture is correct. You also have to make sure you have all your equipment and accessories properly placed and ready to use. Once you’re there, in the final stage, check your core engagement. If it isn’t as active as the exercise requires, focus on the mind-to-muscle connection and lift your belly button.
Repeat this for every exercise and every new setup. Chances are, whenever you take a break or move from one position to another, your core will start to relax. Focus your attention there first, and then on the exercise.
Do Specific Core Exercises
Just as resistance-band walks and air squats activate your legs, exercises that target your core make it stronger and easier to engage over time.
Start with simple ab workouts, like bicycle kicks and crunches, and slowly progress to Swiss ball pikes and ab rollers. Additionally, if you implement more yoga and Pilates into your workout routine, your core will be on fire.
You can do these exercises as the first part of your workout to ensure you’re feeling your core throughout the rest of it.
Stretch It Out
Just like warming up, stretching should be a regular part of your routine. You should never neglect it. Stretching allows your muscles to recover and tone. It prevents soreness and decreases the amount of lactic acid buildup, while also improving your flexibility and range of motion.
Many people know how to stretch their legs and arms, but it’s just as important to stretch your core and allow it to recover.
Spend some time in positions like the cobra and upward-facing dog, as they focus on your front body. Downward-facing dog and all forward folds allow your lower back and hips to fully stretch out and lengthen, without any tension or pulling sensations.
Once you learn how to engage your core, your body’s muscle memory will activate it even if you’re just bending to pick something up off the floor or lifting a heavy box. This protects your spine and hips, prevents injuries, and will help you stay healthy for years to come.