There are so many benefits to keeping a strong core in lockdown. Working from home, less time out & about and a lot of the stresses that come with the current life situation are all contributing to a decrease in our ability to maintain a strong core. What a lot of people do not realise, is that our core is our engine room, keep it working well and the rest of our body will follow suit.
You may have heard a trainer or a gym partner say something along the lines of ‘engage your core’ or ‘keep your core activated’, and you may have thought, what on earth does that mean? How do I do it?!
In this article we’ll go over exactly what it means to engage your core as well as taking a deeper look into what it is physiologically that makes up your core, why it’s so important and how to train for a strong core.
What is your Core?
Having a strong core doesn’t mean having a 6-pack!
Your ‘core’ muscles in the most simplest sense are the muscles that protect your spine. When thinking of it this way it makes sense that we’d want these muscles to be strong in order to protect our backs. This is especially true when training or doing any sort of functional movement.
But, there’s actually a lot more going on than you may think when we talk about the core and the muscles that make it up.
A simple google search of core muscles is likely to show you the muscles of the abdominal region.
- rectus abdominis
- internal and external obliques
- transverse abdominis
- basically all your ‘stomach muscles’.
Whilst these are an essential part of your core, there are actually many more muscles and muscle groups that are also considered a part of your core.
For example, your glutes.
That’s right, the muscles of the bottom!
Gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus are all absolutely crucial to core strength. Imagine your spine is the meat in the sandwich and your ‘glutes’ and your ‘stomach muscles’ are the bread that keeps the meat in!
Also a vital part of your core is your hip flexors known as the psoas major.
These muscles run from behind your middle to lower spine through to the front of your hip (top of the femur). As this muscle runs from back to front it passes straight through the meat in the sandwich.
You may have heard that not having tight hip flexors is important but so is having strong hip flexors, this is often overlooked when training for ‘core’ strength.
Our ‘slings’ consist of the muscles that run anteriorly (front of body) and posteriorly (back of body) across our torsos.
So anteriorly from the upper side of one side of the body (shoulder, chest) to the opposite hip, and posteriorly from the back of the shoulder across to the opposite glute. So muscles like the pectorals in the chest and latissimus dorsi in the back are vital contributors to our slings.
You might be wondering why our slings are important when it comes to core strength?
Let’s change up the sandwich analogy and this time think of a wrap, our slings wrap around our torso and therefore protect the spine. This is especially so when we are partaking in activities like golf, tennis, hockey and even running.
As well as protection, our slings provide power and strength which we all need whether we’re an elite athlete or a casual walker.
So when we talk about our core muscles, they are much more than just your ‘stomach muscles’! \
Think glutes, hips, shoulders, back.
Why is core strength and stability important
As we’ve already touched upon, the muscles that make up the core are the ones that protect your spine.
When it comes to the spine, we want it to be flexible but also stable. Your core can provide the strength your spine needs to pass through full ranges of motion (think cobra pose or just bending down to touch your toes) as well as the stability it needs when the torso is being subjected to sudden and/or unexpected movement (think boxing or falling over).
The core is also super important for performance purposes.
If you are someone who partakes in sport, either at a high level or as a weekend warrior, having a strong core will benefit sporting outcomes.
For example, a strong core will allow you to hit a cricket ball further, or bowl faster!
Having a strong core will allow you to run faster and further before fatigue sets in. Having a strong core will also allow you to do all these things with much less risk of getting injured.
Another positive to having a strong core is the benefit it has to your posture and alignment.
Sitting up straight, lengthening the neck, not leaning forward or rounding the back. And being able to maintain a good posture and position for longer without fatigue. And again, avoiding pesky niggles and injury.
How do I train for a strong core in lockdown?
There are a lot of ways that you can look to get a strong core this lockdown without the gym. One way to think about engaging or activating the core is to think about the distance between your bottom ribs and the top of your pelvis.
If you try to close this gap by bringing your hips forward and your ribs down you will be activating your core!
If you let the ribs flare the chances are that you’ve lost that activation. Be careful not to slouch the shoulders and round the upper back though as you ‘close the gap’.
A great way to ‘feel your core’ is to lie on your back, bring your knees up over your hips and squeeze your hands and knees together – see the top image below:
Core Strength is More than sit ups and planks
There are many many other exercises out there that you can do in lockdown to keep your core strong.
Often overlooked is the benefit of big compound movements such as squats, deadlifts and push ups. These multi-joint movements under external load require the core to be ‘switched on’ and ‘engaged’.
Without even thinking about it when you’re doing a deadlift for example, you need to tighten up and create tension around the torso in order to lift the weight – this is ‘engaging your core’.
Standing exercises for core are also a great functional way to train for core as we’re not always on the floor in day to day life!
One of our favourite standing core exercises is the pallof press.
Using either a band tied to an anchor point or a cable machine, stand side-on with two hands on the handle tucked into the chest, in a powerful stance slowly push the hands straight out from the chest and then back in with control. This is an ‘anti-rotation’ core exercise as we are trying to resist rotating the torso as we move the hands out from the body.
Whilst sit ups and planks have their place in core training, adding a variety of exercises and including targeting other muscle groups like glutes, shoulders and back muscles you’ll have the right recipe for an awesomely strong and functional core.
There’s so much more to core strength than what we may first have thought. During lockdown it is incredibly important that you focus on keeping your core strong.
Hopefully if you didn’t have an understanding of how to ‘engage your core’, you do now!
Everyone and anyone can train for a stronger core, having a strong core is crucial to many aspects of our lives. Having a strong core doesn’t mean having a 6-pack! (worth repeating!).
Core strength is so much more than that and covers more muscles in the body than just around the stomach. So next time you’re training your core, think about hitting other muscle groups and adding variety to the exercises you choose.
Better yet, hit us up and Authentic PT and we can help!
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