The Importance of a Strong Core
If there was one thing that you could do to increase your lifts, clean up your gymnastics technique, and decrease your likelihood of injury, would you take the time to learn how to do it? Engaging your core can help you in all three of these areas, but many people don’t know how or when to activate their core. The core is the foundation to movement. Keeping your core engaged not only protects you from injury, but also helps you generate more power. The hope is that through reading this blog you will learn not only why the core is so important, but also how and when to activate your core.
First, we need to define what we mean when we use the word core. We talk about activating your core a lot at SRCF, but what exactly is the core? Most people think of abs when they hear the word core, but your core involves a lot more muscles than just your abdominals. The main muscles of your core are the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, internal and external obliques, pelvic floor muscles, the gluteus maximus, the multifidus and the erector spinae. That may sound like a lot of big meaningless words, so we will break it down into 3 areas of the body that can be easily understood: the abs, the lower back and the butt.
Next, we will address why activating these specific muscles is so important. The main reason to engage your core, is to protect your spine while lifting weights. Majority of lower back injuries are due to a loss of core engagement. Whether you are deadlifting, squatting, Olympic lifting, or even just pressing overhead you are in danger of injuring your lower back if you lose core engagement.
A second reason why core engagement is useful is to prevent injury and enhance control in your gymnastics movements. Take for instance a kipping pull-up. If you do not engage your core at the top of your pull-up you will have no control and will find yourself swinging instead of kipping. Next, let’s consider the handstand. If you flip up into a handstand without engaging your core, your butt will crash against the wall and your spine is no longer in a safe neutral position. The core is foundational to every gymnastics movement.
A third reason that core engagement is so important is to create more power. This applies to any movement whether lifting or gymnastics. If your core is not tight, you will lose power. In gymnastics we talk a lot about the hollow position. In a correct hollow position, the core is engaged. Learning the hollow position is vital to any gymnastics movement from a strict pull-up to a ring muscle up. Without correct core engagement movement will break down resulting in loss of power and efficiency. The same is true when lifting weights. If you lose your core in a heavy back squat, for instance, when you try to rebound out of the bottom your butt will come up first and your chest will fall forward. Essentially, you lose all the power you just created from your rebound and now all the weight is centered on your lower back. This holds true for every lift: A strong core means more power.
Now that we understand why core engagement is so important, we will look at how to activate your core. If you were to go online and research how to activate your core, you would find that there are opposing views on how it should be done properly. People argue about whether you should suck your abs in or push them out, when to breathe, how best to activate your glutes and a whole lot of other complicated things. But we are going to keep it simple. When we tell you to activate your core, we want you to do three things: brace your abs, pull your ribs down, and activate your glutes. To brace your abs simply imagine that someone is about to punch you in the stomach. Most of you will naturally push your abs out. That’s what we want. Pulling your ribs down can be simplified by placing one hand on your sternum and the other hand on your pubic bone and then pulling those too bones closer together. Activating your glutes means to squeeze your butt. When a coach tells you to engage your core, these are the three things you should do.
Last of all, we will look at when you should activate your core. Whether you are lifting, performing a gymnastics movement or even rowing or running, you should keep your core activated. An active core means a neutral spine which means your back is safe and you are set to lift heavy loads and move your body efficiently.
So, the next time you’re in class setting up to go for a new back squat PR, or about to do a set of ring rows in the metcon, or even hopping on the rower for a 250m warm-up, stop and take a moment to make sure your core is engaged. No matter what level you may be at, an active core is essential to keeping you healthy and progressing toward your fitness goals whatever they may be.
Author: Rhoda Christenson