How to Engage Your Core, Plus 4 of Our Favourite Core Exercises.

You may have heard or read about how important it is to strengthen your core. But what does that even mean?  

In this article, we want to share a foundational principle about core activation and three different ways to engage your core. And we’ll wrap up this blog post with four of our favourite core exercises. 

A Brief Review of Your Core Muscles

Many will picture a toned six-pack, but our trunk musculature is much more than just our abs. 

Here’s a quick review of your anatomy: 

  • We have both inner and outer muscle layers around our abdomen. These muscles run in different directions and work together with the muscles along our spine to stabilize and move our spine. 
  • We also have pelvic floor muscles that create a sling or hammock along the inside of the pelvis. Working together, these muscle groups control the spine and pelvis, which creates a foundation of movement for both our upper and lower body. 
woman doing yoga

A Foundational Principle to Understand

We’ll often talk to patients who believe they should always keep their tummy tight. And unfortunately, this belief can lead individuals to think that the harder we tighten our abs, the better for our backs and posture. But unfortunately, the opposite is true, and problems can develop over time. 

Remember to engage your core as much as needed for the task at hand. A good mantra to remember is this: “Not too tight, not too loose, just right.”

The amount you brace your spine should be proportional to your physical demand.  A simple example would be picking up a tissue box from the floor should require a different level of core engagement than picking up a 50-pound weight!

3 Actions to Engage Your Core

The key to strengthening the core is first focusing on bringing awareness to this area and understanding how to engage it properly. 

There are a couple of different schools of thought about the best way to engage. 

In general, think about three actions: 

  1. Lift your pelvic floor area by thinking about holding your urine in (or stopping it mid-flow)
  2. Suck your belly button backward, pulling it toward your spine
  3. Gently stiffen your abdominal area—think about the action you would take if someone were going to poke you in the stomach.

Practice engaging and then completely relaxing – once you’ve mastered this, you can engage in any position or during any activity, whether you’re sitting in the car, walking, cycling, etc.

Once you feel comfortable with this, you can begin strengthening. Strengthening will, in turn, help support a healthier spine, better function and performance, and ultimately prevent injury.

4 of Our Top Core Exercises

4 of Our Top Core Exercises

1. Bird Dog:

  • Begin on all fours with a flat back.
  • Engage your core.
  • Reach your right arm forward as you straighten your left leg, floating it off the ground. Hold for 3 seconds, making sure nothing in your back moves. 
  • Return to the start position and alternate arms and legs.
  • If this is too difficult, try moving just an arm or a leg.

Watch this video to provide an overview of how to do the exercise:

2. Dead Bug:

  • Lie on your back, hips and knees bent to 90˚, so your feet are off the ground. Arms reach up vertically.
  • Engage your core, flattening your lower back into the floor, making sure there is no space underneath.
  • Reach your right arm above your head as you straighten your left leg, floating it off the ground. Hold for 3 seconds, ensuring your back does not lift off the floor. 
  • Return to the start position and alternate arms and legs.
  • If this is too difficult, try moving just an arm or a leg.

Watch this video to see how to do this:

3. Bridge:

  • Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Engage your core and squeeze your glutes (i.e. your bottom).
  • Lift your hips as high as possible without losing engagement or arching the back. Ideally, your trunk makes a straight line at the top. 
  • Hold for 3 seconds, then return to the start position.

Watch this video to learn how to do the Bridge:

4. Supermans:

  • Begin lying on your stomach with your hands reaching straight forward.
  • Engage your core and squeeze your glutes (i.e. your bottom).
  • Slowly lift your right arm and left leg off the ground. 
  • Hold for 3 seconds, then slowly return to the start position.
  • Alternate arms and legs.
  • If this is easy, you may progress by lifting all limbs off the floor at once.

Here is a video walkthrough of doing a basic Superman:

Want to Dive Deeper?

Refer to our blog post, 3 Key Principles to Keep in Mind When Strengthening Your Core, to learn about common mistakes and how to fix them.

Most people know that strengthening our “core” is essential, but what does it really mean? There’s a lot of talk about strengthening your core. And it’s a standard recommendation people give when you have back pain.

Are you suffering from back pain?

As physiotherapists, we are highly trained healthcare professionals who help people recover from aches and pain throughout the body, including the low back!

Please book an appointment with one of Innovation Physical Therapy’s experienced physiotherapists by calling one of our five clinics in Edmonton, including RiverbendBelvedereNamao, or our newest clinic in Southgate Centre.

If you have any further questions about core exercises or any other issues, contact Innovation Physical Therapy today. We’re here to help you, “Love Getting Better!”