Your Guide to Activating Your Core
All Things Core
The core’s main job is to stabilize the spine, which means protect it from injury while going about your life and participating in your activities.
Depending on who you ask, the core muscles can be defined as a few muscles or many. For this post we’ll stick with the deeper core muscles: diaphragm, pelvic floor muscles, transverse abdominis (TVA) and multifidus muscles and the more superficial abdominal muscles: the inner and outer obliques and rectus abdominis.
We think of the deep core as a can-think soup can. The diaphragm is the top and the pelvic floor muscles are the bottom. While your TVA and Multifidus are the sides of the can. This image shows the deeper core muscles and hopeful helps you to visualize this can.
The deeper core is often overlooked in many “core” exercises. Most core exercises are focusing on working those superficial muscles. You will usually “feel the burn” in these muscles, but not so much when trying to target your deeper core muscles. Most exercises for the deeper core muscles are more brainy than anything else and tend to feel less sexy because you’re not feeling the physical effort.
Where to Begin?
Let’s start with alignment and finding a strong and stable core position.
In the simplest terms, core positioning is aligning your ribs over your pelvis to be able to optimally create tension in your core to stabilize your spine and keep it safe during movements. (We’ll discuss tension below, but words that are often used for creating this tension are “engaging your core” or “bracing your core.”)
How does finding this core positioning help you achieve better core tension? Because you’ve stacked your diaphragm over your pelvic floor muscles and all sides of the “soup can” (e.g. your TVA and multifidus) are now set to do their job to the best of their ability.
Sticking with the can metaphor, when we aren’t in this aligned core position, let’s say your back is a bit arched, our can now has a dent in the side. Structurally this dent is not as strong and stable as when the can’s sides are parallel to one another. When we can’t get into that optimal core positioning, we can’t create the core tension needed to effectively stabilize our spine and its puts us at an elevated risk of injury, especially if the load we are moving is more than we can handle or something other parts of the lifting process are not optimal either.
Check out these two quick little videos we posted on Instagram a few weeks ago demoing good core positioning.
Unlocking this Achievement
Let’s talk about applying the knowledge to your body while doing exercises and other activities.
There are a few cues we use here to help most people get their ribs over their hips. The first cue we use here at Redefine is “sad mime”. In Pilates we would say “knitting the ribs together” to find the same position.
Sad mime is used to describe the ribcage depression that will help align the ribs over your pelvis-or more appropriately align your diaphragm over your pelvic floor muscles for optimal core positioning. This cue feels like a slouch for many folks, but it is more than that. Slouching doesn’t require active participation; it just sort of happens. Whereas sad mime, is exhaling and knitting the ribs together using your diaphragm, TVA and your external obliques.
Here are a few videos demonstrating how to use your breath and core muscles to find the sad mine position.
If the previous video isn’t helping you, sometimes using a ballon can be helpful.
The other cue we use is to “tuck the pelvis” slightly, like when a dog brings their tail between their legs. This cue isn’t for everyone, but more often than not it is. This helps to bring the pelvis out of an anterior pelvic tilt (APT). For some people they are in a little ATP and other folks have quite a bit, so the cuing varies, depending on the person. Again this is to bring the the pelvis/pelvic floor muscles aligned directly under the diaphragm/ribs.
It’s one thing to find the adjustments you need to make while standing statically, it’s another thing to try to do it while moving through an exercise. This will take some focused attention and probably a mirror while you practice these adjustments with movement.
Try beginning with something like a squat, or standing up and down out of a sturdy chair. Can you maintain your diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles inline with one another? This alignment would no longer stay in a vertical configuration, because the nature of your knees going a little forward, your hips going a little back and then your chest going a little forward to counter-balance yourself. Check out the photo below and notice how the diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles are still aligned with one another.
Then work on finding this alignment in a horizontal position. I suggest a bear crawl position. This position challenges you because it is more demand on your core while trying to find and maintain that core position. This may feel more difficult physically or brain wise or both. In general, this alignment may just feel really foreign. It will take some time and repeated application.
Check out the video below with some key point for the bear crawl position and finding that alignment.
The key to maintaining your diaphragm aligned with your pelvic floor muscles while performing exercises is creating and holding tension in the core. Usually the creating tension isn’t the hard part, it’s maintaining it during motion and while breathing that generally is where things get tricky.
We like to start people with breathing exercises to find the rib cage depression and then progress to warm-up exercises and then on up to main strengthy exercises. This isn’t something that you’ll get right away. Just like the folks we work with here in the studio and online, it’s though repeated application and practice that the new positioning becomes habit and default.
This will take some time. Be patient with yourself and keep at it.
Here is a breathing exercise you can use along with a warm-up exercise, the Dead Bug. The breathing exercise will help practice that rib cage depression and creating tension while the Dead Bug is working on maintaining that alignment and tension as the arms and legs press in and extend away.
Sharing a Success Story
Tracy is a member here at the studio that we also knew from before we opened our training studio. I had worked with Tracy as a static trapeze student of mine at one of the circus schools I worked at. Tracy has been training on trapeze for several years now.
Tracy became a member because she knew it was time to take a different approach to getting stronger and hitting some of her trapeze goals.
One day about a month into her training she came in really excited to share that she had accomplished several trapeze skills that had felt still pretty far from attainable. One of them being her first ever meat hook! (it’s a pretty tough skill for those unfamiliar with trapeze.)
Tracy also shared how she was quite surprised and asked her trapeze teacher, Caroline, what was different. Caroline replied that it seemed Tracy was now better able to connect her upper body and lower body through her core while moving on the trapeze.
Tracy was so excited and so happy with the training she’d been doing with us. Here’s Tracy sharing this information. (This video is also a testimonial, so Tracy is also recommending working with us.)
As always, I hope that this posts gets you thinking about your core differently and incorporating some of the above exercises.
If you have questions, please feel free to contact us. We enjoy answering any questions you may have and assisting where we can.
Here’s to a stronger core,
P.S. if you are looking for more individualized assistance or training we do that! Check out our fitness offerings we train folks in-person in the studio or over Zoom. We also offer online training programs.
P.P.S Wanna try us out for 30-Days? See if we are a good match.