How to engage your core muscles for strong abs

6.12.18 by Shannon Tella

When I say “engage your core” what do you do?

Do you suck it in?

Do you hold your breath?

Do you clench your butt?

Do you find yourself confused when asked the above statement? Engaging your core is a lot more of a gentle movement than a lot of people think. It is important to engage your core in proper form. You can’t have strong abs if you aren’t doing the exercises correctly. And you’re not doing the exercises correctly if your core isn’t engaged properly. Your core muscles are the most important muscle group in your body. Occupying areas in your lower back, hips, glutes, trunk, and stomach, core muscles are vital to many common movements, such as lifting, twisting, reaching, and bending. Normal, everyday life requires almost constant use of the core muscles.

Unfortunately, many people have weak, inadequate cores. Find out if you’re one of them by looking over the following 5 signs of weak core muscles.

  1. Lower back pain. The lower back is one of the most common sources for recurrent pain. If the muscles surrounding your spine are weak, the vertebrae and discs of your spine won’t be properly supported.
  2. Poor posture. The muscles of the abdomen and lower back combine to hold your spine and pelvis in place. If these muscles are weak, your body will be unstable, and you won’t be able to sit or stand erectly for more than a short period. Instead, you’ll habitually assume slouched, slumped positions, which in turn will strain your muscles.
  3. Bad balance. Your core muscles stabilize your entire body, so a weak core will affect your ability to balance. Check your balance by standing on one foot with your eyes closed. Test one leg, then the other. If you can’t hold this position for at least ten seconds with both legs, your balance is subpar due to an undeveloped core.
  4. Failing the ‘Hollowing Test’. An inability to pass the ‘hollowing’ test. The simplest way to check core muscle strength is the hollowing test. Take a deep breath. As you begin exhaling, pull your stomach back towards your spine as far as you can. Hold this pose for ten full seconds — if you can’t make it that far, your core needs some work.
  5. Being unable to hold a plank. A plank is a popular abdomen exercise that can double as a test of your core strength. Perform a plank by entering push-up position, then holding your body so that your weight rests on your arms, elbows, and toes, with your hips held steady and level. Hold as long you can — you should be able to hold this position for at least 40 seconds.

If you can relate to more than a few of the signs above do not worry, fortunately, there are many simple exercises designed to strengthen the core muscles. The following two exercises I would recommend to be done on a daily basis to make improvements on your core strength.



To work your six-pack area and back, remain on all fours and tighten your abdominal muscles, keeping your spine and neck in a neutral position; you should be looking at the floor. Slowly extend your left leg behind you while reaching your right arm forward. Keep your hips and shoulders square and make sure your lower back doesn’t arch. Hold for five seconds. Slowly return to the starting position and do the move on the opposite side. Complete 5 to 10 repetitions on each side.

Leg Reaches

Hold your tummy in as you bring your legs up one at a time to table top position (knees bent and over hips, shins parallel to the floor). Keeping one leg stationary, slowly extend the opposite leg out, parallel with the floor but not touching it. Return the leg to the starting position and switch to the opposite leg.

With each repetition remember to breathe, contract your tummy as you move, and keep your back neutral (not moving, flattening or arching up). Work up to 10-15 repetitions each leg.

I can show you how to engage your core properly to avoid injury, and get toned, strong abdominals which will help you get the most out of your Pilates classes and improve athletic performance in other sports. In this session I will take you through the basic fundamentals of Pilates technique and will deliver a core focused workout that will leave you feeling stronger and more knowledgeable on how to work and activate these important muscles the correct way.

All services are provided by instructors on a self-employed basis.

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