Cracking the code to a killer core

Do you also have such a love-hate relationship with your core? Why do abs have to be such hard work and why, oh, why does it have to be so painful?

The thing is, our core is much more important than simply the sexy six-pack we all long for. The core isn’t just one muscle either. In reality, it’s a rather complex physiological situation that is actually meant to help stabilise your spine – not just look gorgeous in a bather.

Many people, however, fail to remember to engage their core while they exercise. That’s right, your core doesn’t only come into play when you’re doing targeted ab exercises like sit-ups. Our core muscles need to work and be engaged in most movements – from running, to rowing, to push-ups, planks and squats.

Perhaps it’s best to demystify the ‘core’ first

According to health and fitness instructor, Jessica Smith, the rectus abdominis (the visible ‘six pack’) doesn’t really do much for stability since its primary role is to curl the trunk.

Liz Doupnik, writing for Shape magazine, describes the core as being comprised of layers of muscle on your stomach, back, and derriere, which support your pelvis and spine that work as a team to keep your posture tall and your back safe from any strains or unwanted forces that can cause pain or injury down the road.

“In a nutshell, your core exists to help your torso turn (think about your upper half during a jog – it slightly moves from side to side), and to resist rotation (think about holding your ground during a crazy concert),” says Doupnik.

So, the secret to stabilising your spine and truly engaging your ‘core,’ lies in contracting the spinal stabilisers, particularly the transversus abdominis (the deepest abdominal muscle).

How to engage your core

For the major part, it’s rewiring your brain to be aware of your core. You need to become mindful of when you’re engaging your core and when you’re slacking.

One of the easiest ways to engage those ultra-important core stabilisers is to imagine sucking in your belly button towards your spine. Another good technique is to imagine the feeling of getting into jeans that are just a tad too tight and you need to suck it in to be able to close the zipper. Keep it right there. You’ll feel it.

When it comes to exercise, Smith advises aiming for a mix of training that works your core in more than one way, including exercises that involve challenging the core muscles to stabilise your spine.

Recommended core exercises

Plank:

Lie flat on your stomach. Push yourself up on your forearms – making sure your elbows are in line with your shoulders. Support your body on your forearms and toes while holding your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Don’t forget to engage your core! If this is too difficult, try resting on your knees. If it’s too easy, extend your arms so you’re supported by your hands. Remember to make sure your hands are in line with your shoulders.

Dead bug:

Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up towards the sky, and your legs raised with your knees bent at 90°. Lower your right arm and left leg at the same time until they are hovering just above the floor then return to the starting position. Then do the same with the opposite limbs. Repeat.

Stagnant crawler:

Get on your hands and knees as if you were about to start crawling on the floor like a baby. Make sure your hands are in line with your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips. Look down towards your hands and suck in your belly button to your spine. Hold for 20 seconds and release. Repeat.

Boat:

Sit on the floor with your feet soles on the floor and your knees bent. Lean back slightly, keeping your back straight, shoulders relaxed and pulling down (away from your ears), and hold your arms out in front of you. Slowly raise your feet off the ground with your legs together. If you feel strong enough and are able to keep the rest of your posture intact, extend your legs so they are straight and your body forms a ‘V’ shape. If this is too easy, you can also raise your arms and spread your legs.

About My Health and Fitness

Welcome to My Health and Fitness, a rich source of articles to help you become the best version of yourself. From diet to exercise and general health, our content contributors (including Biokineticists, Physiotherapists, and Fitness Professionals) will cover all your frequently asked questions and more!

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Disclaimer: Our articles are not meant to replace any medical advice as given to you by your doctor or healthcare specialist. Always consult your doctor before embarking on a new exercise routine or drastic changes in your diet, especially where pre-existing conditions are applicable.

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