What is engaging your core muscles exactly?


Is it just pulling in your stomach? Do you need a basic level of fitness before it is possible to engage your core? If so how is it possible to exercise this area without being fit already?

In: 5

It somewhat depends on the context. But generally what is meant here is tightening both your abdominal muscles and also you back muscles to hold your torso stiff and rigid. You want to do this before picking up something heavy because you want a rigid torso to protect your vulnerable spine. Think about picking up a heavy box by squatting down, wrapping your arms around it, and standing up. If your back and abs aren’t tensed somewhat, your upper body will just fold like a pool noodle and you will do horrible things to your spine. When people say to engage your core, they mean you should really focus on getting that rigid core because it’s better to overdo it than to under-do it and hurt your back.

To address your question about fitness, no, unless you are literally missing those particular muscle groups, you can always use them to tighten your core. You can do crunches, planks, or any number of other exercises to strengthen your abdominals. You can strengthen your back by doing light deadlifts, good mornings, supermans, and by just consciously keeping an upright posture when sitting.

Engaging your core just means telling those muscles to “turn on” just enough to provide a little extra stability, so you’re ready for action and not all floppy in the middle.

If you’re not used to exercise or good posture, you might think – for example – doing a squat just means using your legs. But really you need to use the muscles in your stomach and back, along with your legs. Some people will naturally do this, but most of us need to be reminded to “zip up our tummy” or “tuck in our pelvis” to get proper alignment, which helps with many kinds of weight-bearing.

When you “engage your core” you are slightly tensing the muscles in your stomach and back, to make your whole midsection a bit stiffer. This has three main benefits:

1) it minimizes any floppiness/wobbling you might otherwise do, and helps you keep your balance when doing the exercise. Eg if you’re holding a weight in one hand, and don’t engage your core, you’ll naturally be pulled sideways. Engaging your core in this context means “hold your midsection steady to resist the force on one side”

2) it helps protect your spine. In our squat example, you tense your core to help keep your chest upright rather than folding under the weight. In other exercises, engaging your core muscles may help keep your vertebrae aligned left to right, or help keep your back and neck nice and long to avoid compression. Basically, you’re using your muscles to keep your spine aligned instead of letting it collapse in response to gravity or weights.

3) it makes you generally ready for action, so you can respond to anything and help keep yourself safe. A little bit like the suspension in a car: the springs are slightly loaded so they don’t bounce too much, but there’s a little give. Some old ankle injury making your squat slightly lopsided? Uneven surface making your stance a little weird? Engaging your core will help you respond to that and compensate, without being pulled off balance.

The goal isn’t to “hnrrrrrffff” and make your muscles super tense. It’s just to be aware of holding the middle part of your body nice and strong, to help the rest of you work more safely and efficiently.

It is basically what you use to sit up from bed. When you use them, they are engaged. When you’re lying down or doing pull up, or doing kicks, they are not engaged. Because the body isn’t doing anything with those muscles.
You already have muscles there, they are likely not visible.

My advice, try doing sit ups, and plancs (sorry for bad spelling) a lot of them.

If you don’t know how to do it, chances are you don’t have much of one. It’s like how bodybuilders can make their pecs dance. You have to work on it/strengthen it; no amount of explanation will make it happen

Others have offered exercise suggestions. Leg exercises require it to be done correctly. Power patterns like sprinting demand a lot of core too