Core. What? Why? and How?
Core what is your core anyways?
I’m sure you’ve heard your instructor talk time and time again about your core. Whether you were told to lengthen your core, engage your core, strengthen, zip-up, scoop, tighten, stabilize... The list of cues to the core goes on and on. But what are they even talking about?
The way I like to look at it is like an apple core. It goes all the way around, and it's deep inside the “body” of the apple. So that being said, no, it’s not just the 6 pack abs that are being talked about when you’re being told to tighten your core.
Let’s look at the anatomy of the core then, since it goes all the way around the body then we know that it has to include out abs, back, and sides. On the front and sides, we have our Rectus abdominus (6 pack), transverse abdominus, external obliques, pelvic floor, and our diaphragm. On the other side, It also includes the muscles that run along our spine, our erector spinae, multifidus, and psoas.
So now we know what muscles are a part of the core, now why is it so important?
Your core is the bridge between your upper body and your legs. Without a strong core, you won't have any stability or strength in either. Not to mention, your core helps protect your inner organs, helps you digest your food, and keeps you from compressing your spine and developing degenerative disks or back injuries!
All this is great, we know what the core is, why we need it strong, now how do we “find it”?
Sometimes it's really hard to turn on all of the muscles of your core, and then when you finally do, it feels impossible to hold it all together and move and breath! If this sounds familiar then odds are you’re clenching it all together and holding it all a little too tight.
Here’s an easy way to gently turn on your deep core muscles that prevent you from gripping them too hard. Cough! That’s all it takes. A light little cough should activate your deep core muscles enough to get them to work for you during your workout!
I hope that clears a lot of things up for you! I did want to touch a little more on the pelvic floor and diaphragm, however, so if you need more nitty-gritty details then here we go!
For a lot of people, especially mothers or those who’ve had pelvic surgery, strengthening or even just turning on the pelvic floor is a really hard thing to do! So I’m sure you’ve heard the term kegal before, if not we are talking about the muscles that make you stop going pee, that will be a big part in you turning on your core, so by all means, kegal when you aren't feeling enough core engagement! Going a bit deeper into the kegal topic, did you know your kegals are NOT supposed to make you clench your Anus too? A kegal can be SUPER specific, you can focus on your right side or your left, front or back, or even think of it in quadrants if you want to really challenge yourself! So while doing your next set of kegals, set an intention, maybe try to do 10 on one side and 10 on the other all without clenching your anus!
P.S everyone could do with more kegals in their life. It’s not just for people who have urinary problems or pelvic issues! (it even helps with your sexual functions, just saying)
As for the diaphragm, well I wanted to quickly touch on how you can keep your diaphragm working without holding your breath because that is a real problem! As you inhale your diaphragm contracts down towards your pelvis to create negative pressure and draws air in, and as you exhale it relaxes and pushes the air out. So if you were to squeeze your core super tight then you would probably hold your breath, which is not what your instructor means, especially when the only 2 other things they tell you to do is breathe and relax those shoulders away from your ears!
So how do we keep our core tight AND breathe?
Well, look at your core muscles like springs. Springs may be tight, but they are still movable and flexible. So engage your core, but keep the muscles still loose and relaxed enough that your breath feels like it has a bit of support and almost a tiny tiny bit of resistance. This should be enough to keep your spine supported, organs protected, bowels moving, and breath flowing all while you’re working out, and even when you’re just living your day to day life!
I hope this helps you understand the core and what it means when your teacher yells at you to get it working!
I bet your next class will be your most engaged one yet!