The best ways to really engage your core

pushups home workout

Back in the days where we could regularly go to the gym or even book in a personal trainer session or fitness class, you likely heard the phrase ‘engage your core’ at some point. However, you can be forgiven for not knowing exactly how to engage your core during workouts. 

Now that we’re doing our best to nail home exercises and keep ourselves in shape for when we can go back to the gyms etc, we wanted to give you some tips to really work your core in the best way.

Being able to effectively engage your core is fantastic for your overall fitness and strength, but it’s possibly one of the most misunderstood and incorrectly executed of all muscle actions. We want to dispel any misconceptions and help you work your core muscles like never before. So here’s the best way to really engage your core…

First, what are the core muscles?

Of course if you want to get better at working your core, it’s essential to understand what your core muscles actually are and what they do. It’s all too easy to think of your core as just the coveted ‘six-pack’, but there’s much more to having strong abdominal muscles and a strengthened core than just six-pack abs. 

Your core muscles essentially wrap around your torso, providing important support to your spine and pelvis. The core includes glute, adductor, lower back and abdominal muscles, as well as spinal erectors and your diaphragm. Your abdominal muscles are the most important when it comes to supporting your whole body and making you feel stronger. 

When you brace together all of your abdominal muscles and work them to stiffen your torso and support your spine as it bends and twists, you’ll be effectively engaging your core in the best way. And we’ll show you how to do just that…

Working your core the right way

The easiest way to really workout your core is to brace yourself as if you’re expecting a strong hit to your torso. After bracing yourself and tensing for a second, slowly breath into your stomach. Keep in mind that you will naturally engage your core when laughing or when you cough, so to get a good idea for how engaging your core should feel, perform one of these actions.

Remember that the most common mistakes people tend to make when trying to work their core, is sucking their stomach in or holding their breath. Instead of sucking in you need to actually focus on pulling your navel up and in towards your spine. Doing this should make you feel as though you are tightening your abs, while at the same time still being able to move around and breath normally. 

One of the best positions to work these muscles is by getting on all fours, as from here you can work to pull your abs up and in towards your spine, while keeping your torso still as you breath out. Your breathing is a big part of working your core, because it’s not possible to engage it if you hold your breath. You’ll essentially be engaging your core each time you exhale, and if you pull your navel up and in during the exhale, the movement helps you to pull your stomach in and lift your torso.

Why having a strong core is so important

When it comes to your overall movement, strength, flexibility and athletic ability, your core is pretty much the foundation. Engaging your core will help to ensure you’re truly getting the most out of your workout routines. It makes your workouts much more effective and therefore produces better and faster results. 

Strengthening your core allows you to more easily make progress with other muscle groups and helps to reduce the risk of injury during exercise as well. If you often lift weights, then using your core currently will help to keep your spine supported, which will in turn keep your back safe from strain. Working on your core strength is also extremely good for your posture, helping you stand up straighter and preventing your back from arching when doing certain exercises.

Exercises that really work your core

Thankfully there are plenty of exercises you can do that can strengthen and engage your core muscles, including:

Hip Bridges

These are great for exercising your glutes and hamstrings, but they also strengthen your core muscles. 

  • Simply lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat. 
  • Place your arms down the side of your body with palms on the floor.
  • Slowly lift your hips up towards the ceiling to create a bridge, whilst squeezing your glutes. Be sure to keep your shoulders on the floor as you do this.
  • Hold your bridge for around 3 to 4 seconds, then slowly lower yourself back to the floor. And repeat.

Mountain Climbers

If you’re looking to improve your overall fitness, then you can’t go wrong with mountain climbers, as they help to increase your heart rate while you exercise multiple muscle groups at once. 

  • Get yourself into a push-up position, with your arms straight and shoulder-width apart.
  • Bring one of your knees towards your chest and extend it back out again.
  • Repeat this with the opposite knee and engage your core each time.
  • Alternate between knees and increase the speed of the movement as much as you can for fast 30-second intervals.

The Plank

This is a fantastic exercise for increasing core strength and like the other exercises, can be done easily at home or at the gym.

  • Get yourself back into a push-up position but this time rest on your forearms. 
  • Face your head down and make sure that your upper arms are directly beneath your shoulders.
  • Then hold yourself in this position.
  • As you do so, keep your body straightened and breath to engage your core.
  • In order to keep your form, squeeze your glutes and your quads.
  • Do your best to hold the plank for around a full minute.

Squats 

Squats are ideal for building and toning your muscles, losing excess weight and strengthening your core. 

  • Stand upright and place your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Breath in and exhale to engage your core, bend your knees and push your glutes out.
  • When you reach the squat position, ensure your knees are in line with your toes.
  • Hold the position for a few seconds and then slowly rise back up. Simply repeat this as many times as you can while maintaining your form.

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