Core – its importance and a step by step guide to activate

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Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská

Veronika Lušovská
Writer

Veronika Lušovská discusses how to best exercise your core strength

What is core strength? Basically most of the deep muscles which hold the body together and help your balance – diaphragm, pelvic floor, core back, abdominal and neck muscles. It is not the six pack. Those are superficial muscles and despite their usefulness, they are not the core. The core muscles connect your body together and work when you stand, walk, run, sit, or squat.

Although the stabilisation of the body relies on coordination of all muscles together, this article will focus on the core abdominal muscles. These muscles create intra-abdominal pressure, stabilise our body, support the spine, and relieve our back muscles in the lower back area. It acts as a natural corset – the belly seems tighter and thinner. Hence, when people do not know how to activate it, the back muscles have to do all the work to stabilise the body and support the spine. It is vital that we use our core abdominal muscles, since the weight of the whole body mostly relies on the lumbus, making it one of the most overwhelmed parts of the body. Overload of back muscles in the loins area, especially quadratus lumborum muscle and spinal erectors, causes their shortening, resulting in hyperlordosis, or extra spinal curvature.

Because of poor body posture, there is an uneven load on our spinal discs, which in the worst cases, can end up herniated and cause problems that may even require a surgery. You can sometimes spot a person who does not how to use it at a first glance. They have their glutes arched out, their lower ribs protrude and their belly is bulging. Someone might be muscular and fit, but still overarched in the loins area, meaning they have probably no clue something like the core exists.

Left – correct posture, right – incorrect posture. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A step by step guide to activate your core:

Step 1: Initial position

Lie on your back and flex both your legs. Keep your lower back on the ground. Breathe in with your nose and breathe out with your mouth, expanding your stomach to all sides. Be careful not to breathe in your chest. Your lower ribs should not be protruding, try to draw them into your stomach as much as you can. Stay still and keep breathing.

Correct position. Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská.

Incorrect position. Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská.

Breathing: If you are having difficulties with correct breathing, put your hand(s) on your stomach.
This will help your body to concentrate on breathing in your stomach. You can also press your stomach from both sides with your hands. Slight squeezing of the abdomen will result in its resistance, helping you in the right execution. Your abdomen will tend to inflate more as a whole, rather than excessively moving up and down. The stomach should work as a piston. When it is being inflated, it is expanding to all sides, not only up and down.

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská

Step 2: Activating the core

Keep the initial position and make sure you breathe into your stomach, keeping the lower back on the ground. Palpate your anterior superior iliac spine and push your index and middle finger about a centimetre right next to it. The easiest way to activate your core is to either laugh or cough. Simply laugh or cough and try to stop and keep it when your abdomen gets hard. Palpating your abdomen, observe the difference in the muscle tension when you cough or laugh or, on the contrary, when you are relaxed. It should vary. No wonder people say that a laughter makes our lives longer. Using your core in everyday life can prevent plenty of health issues, thus prolonging our lives.

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská

Step 3: Checking on your activated core

If you managed to activate it and keep the muscle tension, you will not be able to push your fingers into your stomach. However, if you did not, the stomach will be soft and you will be able to easily press them quite deep into it. Make sure your abdomen is rocklike even while breathing out. Do not relieve it.

Incorrect. Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská

Extra step: Still cannot make it work?

Lift your legs above the floor, your hips and knees at a 90 degree angle. This should help to activate it.

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Veronika Lušovská

As it has been already mentioned, we should have the core engaged prior to our every movement. Do not worry if you do not manage to employ it the first time. Especially if you are a beginner, it is a demanding exercise which requires a lot of concentration and training. But if you are successful in activating it while lying down, try it in different positions as well, e.g. standing, sitting, walking, running, working out etc.