Your core is essential in every exercise you perform. Not only do you need a strong core inside the gym, but this humble body part is incorporated into almost every movement of the body. A strong core will maximise the benefits of your workouts as well as improving your posture and everyday activities.
How do you engage your core?
A common mistake people make when trying to engage their core is sucking their stomach in. Core engagement is about bracing the core, so instead of sucking your stomach in, you need to focus on pulling your navel up and in towards your spine.
Imagine feeling as if you're about to be punched in the gut. That 'brace' feeling resembles the feeling of filling out your diaphragm and tightening your midsection like a brick to prepare for the blow. Your body knows this is the ideal way to protect yourself from that punch. The core naturally engages right before coughing as well.
When you ‘brace’ your abs, they should feel tightened but you should still be able to move and breathe as normal.
Practice engaging your core:
- Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Press your lower back into the ground so that your tailbone tips up slightly.
- Inhale deeply. Once your belly is full of air, clench your abdominal muscles.
- Use your ab muscles to pull your belly button up and in towards your spine, as if you’re ‘zipping up’ your abs.
- Take a few breaths, relax, and repeat the exercise.
So why place so much emphasis on bracing your core?
- INJURY PREVENTION
When you learn a new exercise such as the plank, the idea is to perfect this exercise and increase the intensity over time as you master it. Before considering increasing the intensity, you need to ensure you are performing the plank correctly. Increasing the intensity can be through planking for longer or placing a weight on your back. Without precaution and proper technique, injuries ranging from back pain to full-blown injuries can occur.
- ATHLETIC PROGRESS
Compensating proper form is similar to a quick fix. It may get you through the exercise at the time, but only guarantees you're developing a bad habit that becomes more and more difficult to unlearn. You're far better off performing a plank for half a minute with the correct technique, rather than a two-minute plank with poor posture. The foundation of a good plank is when: Your weight is resting on your forearms, not your hands. The body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Your toes are firmly on the ground and your glutes are squeezed slightly to stabilise your body. The neck and spine are neutral, you can look at a spot on the floor beyond your hands to help with this. A common error when performing the plank is drooping or collapsing the lower back. If you dip your bottom or don't pull your belly button toward your spine, you put immense pressure on your lower back. So much goes into a standard movement like this and only demonstrates the effort it takes to workout right.
Dedicating time to performing exercises properly is one way to ensure you aren't setting yourself up for debilitating injuries in the future. This applies to most core exercises and is something you should prioritise if you're following THE BOD.
Tips for proper core engagement:
- Don't focus on the stopwatch. Trying to meet a set time may cause you to lower your standard and compensate correct form for time.
- Don't forget to breathe. Denying yourself the oxygen brings on dizziness and nausea.
- Don't let your head drop. While a lot of the focus is committed to your core and back when doing a core exercise, it's important to remember that your head and neck is an extension of your back (and shouldn't be moving around).
Ready for a quick ab workout to help strengthen your core? Let’s go!
Hanging leg raises
Variation: Lying leg raises
Avoid curving your spine on the way down and aim for a flat back
30seconds - 1 minute
Don't dip your back, and find a spot on the floor to focus on!
12 reps per side
Focus more on controlling the movement than speed
10 reps per side
Variation: Side plank
When performing the side plank, you can even extend the outside leg out for even more intensity
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