The Core And How To Use It

Training your abdominals is about more than getting a 6 pack. What you can see are just the external muscles, while beneath them is another set of internal muscles that provide stability and support to your body.

This is your core.

If it is weakened by lack of exercise, being overweight, poor posture, or being used incorrectly, this can result in various injuries and health problems such as back and neck pain, headaches, poor breathing, low energy levels, and a host of other physical and mental issues.
A strong core is as essential to losing weight as aerobic and resistance training.

What Is The Core?
Your spinal column is made up of between 32 and 34 bones called vertebrae, between which are spongy discs that are there to act as shock absorbers. The 2 main purposes of your spinal column are to support the body in an upright position, and to protect the spinal cord, which is a bundle of nerves that with the brain makes up the central nervous system.

The core is the muscles that surround it to help keep it in alignment and provide resistance to external forces, whether this is kicking a ball, lifting a weight, picking up your child, or opening a door. All of this involves the deep muscles of the abdomen, the obliques at the sides, and the deep muscles of your back. Picture them together as the support structure of your entire body.
There are dozens of core exercises and this is a topic that deserves another article in itself, but there is one very important thing you need to know when doing any abdominal exercise.

It sounds like common sense that when trying to strengthen your core you should actually be using it, but a mistake many people make is to just go through the motions without actually engaging it.

To demonstrate what I mean by this I want you to lay on your back with your knees bent so that 
your feet are flat. Keep your head down and your arms by your side. If you reach down to your lower back you'll probably find that there is a big space between you and the floor where you can slide in at least a couple of fingers.

Do a couple of basic sit-ups and as you do, put your other hand on your stomach. You'll notice that it alternates between being relaxed and tense, soft and hard, as you do each one.
If you now rest for a moment and relax, then tense your abdominal muscles and keep them like this, you'll notice that your pelvis (hips) will have tilted back. Because of this your lower back will now be pressing your fingers against the floor. If it isn't, concentrate on making this happen.

Congratulations, you've engaged your core!

Do a couple more sit ups like this and you'll find that they're harder than before because you're properly using not just the outer muscles, but the deeper core muscles too. You'll also find that your obliques are engaged, as are the deep postural muscles of your mid to lower back.
One last thing is that although you might need some practice at first, remember to breathe as you keep your core muscles tense. Any exercise is better if you remember to breathe!

David Hields is a qualified Personal Trainer and writer who has 20 years experience of dieting, exercising and fitness. He has also studied psychology for over 10 years and uses all of this knowledge to help people achieve their health & fitness goals.

To read articles on weight loss, nutrition, muscle building, fitness and motivation visit his blog at

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