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How to Properly Engage the Core

May 17, 20237 min read


The core is a very complex unit of the body. The core is what holds the body up when standing and sitting, it also helps stabilize the body when walking, picking up objects, balancing, and so much more. Understanding how to engage the core properly is very important in protecting the core unit and strengthening the entire body.

I go into more depth on core engagement, intra abdominal pressure, diastases recti, anatomy, symptoms of a weak pelvic floor, why pelvic floor exercises are important, and more in my Pelvic Floor & Core Manual which will hopefully be available to you soon.

Where to Start?

First off, breathing is a major key in engaging the core properly. This is called diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing.

When you breath in your belly will expand out. This is the relaxing phase of the core engagement process.

When you breath out your belly will flatten. This is the engagement phase of the process.

It is important to master proper breathing techniques first, practicing diaphragmatic breathing daily. It is natural for us to breath with our bellies. If you notice that when you breath your shoulders rise, this can cause tension and soreness in the neck muscles, trapezius muscle, and upper back. This can cause shoulder pain. Focusing on diaphragmatic breathing can help relieve some of that shoulder tension and soreness.

Breathing Techniques Video

As you exhale you want to engage your belly in a wave like motion, starting from the bottom engaging the pelvic floor (which is located in the middle of the pelvic bone, this muscle holds up body organs) and working your way up and in towards the rib cage. It is important that you engage starting from the bottom (pelvic floor) working up to the rib cage bringing your oblique muscles (side muscles) and transverse abdominus (deep core muscles) in as well. This insures there is no pressure pushing down on the pelvic floor or out on the abdominal muscles causing unwanted pressure and weakening. This engagement helps stabilize the core and gives it a good strong foundation.

Core Engagement Video

Core Engagement Video While Standing or Sitting

You will continue to do this process during daily movement and exercise. This helps protect the core from intra abdominal pressure forcing out when we lift or move heavy objects. You will notice weakening of the core when you see coning or bulging in your abdominal area as you sit up off the ground or lift a heavy object. This is shown more in depth in the videos below. This is important to pay attention to and modify movements until you get the core engagement down properly.

Proper Core Engagement Video During Movement

Video Demonstration on

Improper Core Engagement vs. Proper Core Engagement

Modifications to Protect the Core:

Plank modifications:

Plank Modifications

Reverse plank, incline plank, modified side plank, table top plank with one extended leg

Crunch modifications:

Crunch Modifications

Bird dogs, standing crunch, arm and knee tucks

Lying leg lift modifications:

Lying leg lift modifications

Single leg lifts, single leg toe taps

Push-up modifications:

Push-up modifications

Knee push-ups, incline push ups

My Journey Starting with Core Engagement

I first got interesting in learning about the pelvic floor and core about 4 years ago when I was a sophomore in college. I heard so many benefits of engaging the core properly that I wanted to try for myself.

I focused on breathing techniques first which took a long time to understand. I was breathing with my upper chest and shoulders more than I thought I was. After I mastered the diaphragmatic breathing techniques which took about 1 month, practicing for 5 minutes each day, I moved on to core engagement, which took some time to master. I was teaching myself how to do this and researching everything I could on what to know about proper core engagement. I wanted to know what I was doing wrong and how I could fix it.

Now when I am exercising and moving throughout the day I unconsciously engage my core. I have found that it is hard to engage the core improperly from the skills and muscle memory I have created with these techniques.

I have simplified and taken all of my knowledge over the past 4 years and created a Pelvic Health Manual to help educate everyone to learn these skills more easily and more sufficiently. This blog post is just a small representation on what there is to know about the core.

I believe the core is one of the most important foundations of the human body and how we move daily. I truly think these techniques will help you and so many others achieve a healthy core that will help move the body more effortlessly.

With any and all of my programs and manuals I provide, my intensions are to teach you and educate you on how to do the movements so that you can take the knowledge I give you out in the world to teach others and continually use in your daily life. I want to give you the tools to understand how to make any of these programs or techniques work for you.

My advice for you is to be patient and consistent with this process. You will see great results in strength if you take your time and practice. The benefits and knowledge you will receive from this can help create a good foundation in your health. These techniques are complex and it takes time to understand the correct mechanisms, but when the basics are mastered core engagement will become easier.

I personally thought I already had a strong core from being in sports but I quickly came to realize I was not engaging my core correctly at that time. After learning the techniques and practicing everyday I slowly became stronger and more aware of my core during my daily activity. After I mastered the breathing techniques and core engagement (which probably took 1 year) I mindlessly engaged my core when picking up objects or while I was cooking. I then focused on pelvic floor and core exercises 3 times a week.

Even if you are an athlete and have good core strength I challenge you to try these techniques.

I will be posting beginner core workouts soon. Even if you think you are more advanced and do not need to start as a beginner I suggest starting with the basics and moving up from there. You may be surprised at how much you didn't know about core engagement.

Back Health

The core is also an important aspect in back health. A strong and properly functioning core helps strength the back as well. Giving the entire core unit (front and back) a stable brace to move safely.

Things to Pay Attention to

Another thing to pay attention to is if you are engaging the core for too long this can cause weakening of the core. When you are working out there are periods of rest in the workout to optimize full muscle potential. The same goes for core engagement. If we engage the core for too long or try to keep it engaged most of the day this can cause weakening of the muscles because it has no time to rest and recover to strengthen. A tired muscle is a weak muscle.

Even if you are an athlete, start with the beginner core exercises and modify as needed. It is okay to modify. Modifications do not mean weak, they mean smart when it comes to protecting and strengthening the core in a safe manner.

Benefits of a Strong Core

  • Improves balance

  • Less falls

  • Relieves back, neck and shoulder pain

  • Improves overall body movement in all directions

  • Helps the body move with less pain

  • Improves good posture

  • Relieves tension in the neck and shoulders

  • Improves function in everyday activities: house hold work, hobbies, sports, gardening

  • Prevents muscle injuries

Anatomy of the Abdominal Muscles

The core consists of many muscles groups: the abdominal muscles and intra abdominal muscles, the internal and external oblique muscles, back muscles, and glute muscles.

As you can see in the photo below there is connective tissue that holds our core muscles together. The linea alba is the connective tissue down the center of our rectus abdominal muscles or our 6 pack. This tissue can tear and stretch if there is unwanted intra abdominal pressure pushing out on it and can cause splitting of the abdominal muscles. It is important to connect the core muscles by contracting them correctly in managing that pressure.

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Brigette Williams

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Location: Duluth, MN