Engage Your Core!

core trainingCheck out the “Fit Minute” podcast at www.awakenedfitness.com

By Alex Cromartie, CPT

If you’ve spent any time reading or talking with people about fitness, then you’ve undoubtedly heard the term “core training”. It’s quite the buzzword these days, and rightfully so as learning to engage your core is really a key to unlocking your body’s physical potential. But it’s not enough to add a few core building exercises to the end of your workout. You need to engage your core in EVERY exercise you do! I always know when I’ve had a good chest workout when my abs are sore the next day from keeping them engaged throughout my lifts. By engaging your abs when exercising, you will be able to exercise harder, lift heavier, and reduce your risk of injury.  To understand why, you need to know a little bit about how your body generates power. Read on!

When exercising or lifting heavy objects, it is imperative to maintain proper form. This doesn’t just mean keeping your limbs in nice parallel lines and right angles, but more importantly, keeping your chest up, your lower spine straight, and your bellybutton drawn in toward your spine while tightening your abs. Do this all while breathing normally, and you are golden! Seriously though, this posture not only creates a stable foundation,  it also creates a natural “spring” in your abdomen. This spring is how your body generates power. I don’t mean this in a metaphysical sense either, When you hold the correct exercise form (chest up, back straight, bellybutton in and tight) and bear down, your body actually creates a power center by contracting four muscles in the abdomen (rectus abdominus, transverse abdominals, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor), to create a box of air which it can use to its advantage when moving objects in space. Athletes know this posture very well, either learned or instinctively. If you lift without creating this box of air, you risk injury because your limbs don’t have a solid foundation from which to move weight. A good analogy to this is trying to run in sand. Because your toe has no foundation from which to push off from, any attempts to run or walk are very inefficient. The same is true when your limbs try to push off of an unstable core.

Leave your ego at the door as you begin to become aware of engaging your core. I can tell you now that if you’ve been lifting/exercising without an engaged core, you will almost certainly have to back off of the amount of weight you’re using. You should be able to keep your bellybutton in and tight throughout each exercise you do (including at the bottom of a squat). If you catch your abs taking little brakes at a particular point in the rep, you need to back off of the weight. Remember to breathe too (it can actually be tricky)! It may take you a few weeks of visualization and practice during your workout before you really “feel” what I’m talking about. But keep at it. Having a trainer to watch your form is invaluable. Once you get the hang of engaging your core, it will make your workouts exponentially more effective.

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