Even if you’ve memorized the meaning of “activating your core” and can easily repeat it to your bewildered workout buddies, actually putting it into practice can be a challenge. After all, the actions necessary to contract and brace your core muscles, which help create firmness and stability in your midsection, aren’t exactly instinctive. But a simple trick recently shared on Instagram could assist you in finally mastering the movement.
Developed by Katie Clare, D.C., a certified chiropractic sports practitioner in Minnesota, this technique for engaging your core involves lying face-up with a resistance band — fastened to a kettlebell handle by your side — pulled tightly beneath your lower back. As you perform your abdominal exercises (Clare demonstrates dead bugs in the video), your goal is to keep the resistance band taut. If it becomes loose, that’s your signal that your core is no longer activated.
And this isn’t just another viral trick without credibility: This straightforward method for engaging your core actually works, according to Kelly Froelich, a certified personal trainer and co-founder of the digital fitness platform Balanced. To effectively activate your core — which is composed of muscles in your abdomen, back, and pelvic floor — you’ll need to tighten your midsection as if someone were about to strike you in the stomach, she explains. This bracing alters the position of your spine, achieving a “neutral” alignment. “When you’re sitting normally, there is a natural curve in the lower part of your spine, but when you engage your core, that curve essentially flattens,” she clarifies. “If you’re not activating your core, then that natural curve in your spine returns. Using the resistance band is actually a useful technique to ensure that you’re engaging your core and pressing your back muscles onto the ground.”
It may appear to be a minor detail that doesn’t truly matter, but you would be utterly mistaken: Properly activating your core is vital for maximizing your workout results and avoiding injuries — not only in fitness but in life. “If you lack that activation, your core muscles won’t function, and other muscles will compensate for it,” explains Froelich. For example, when performing leg raises without activating your core (which is the primary muscle group responsible for the movement), other muscles, like your hips, will take over the workload to execute the exercise, she elaborates. “Those secondary muscles will end up performing more work that they aren’t accustomed to, and this can lead to strain and injury,” adds Froelich. However, by keeping a resistance band tightly pulled under your back, you can ensure that all the appropriate muscle groups are engaged to complete the exercise.
Although this innovative hack can only be performed during supine exercises, it’s still beneficial if you’re planning to do upright or prone movements in other aspects of your routine. “The objective and purpose of your core are to stabilize, and so the most effective way to do that is through bracing or holding your core in a clenched position,” says Froelich. “By doing that with the resistance band, you’re compelling yourself to truly hold that engagement of the core, [which is] exceedingly significant when doing any core exercise.” In other words, regularly practicing this technique — even without performing dead bugs or leg raises — will educate you on exactly what it feels like for your core to be engaged. Then, when you undertake other exercises that require core stability, such as Russian twists, planks, and squats, you’re capable of recalling that braced sensation and adjusting your form as necessary.
Furthermore, the resistance band trick can be a valuable tool for any individual, regardless of fitness level, says Froelich. “This is fantastic for beginners — even if you’re not executing any movement of your body — to simply feel that core brace, to activate those stabilizer muscles,” she explains. “I think it’s also an excellent assessment for intermediate or advanced athletes who want to ensure they are still bracing their core if they are incorporating more choreography or other movements [to an exercise].” Translation: You’re never too much of a pro to work on your core engagement technique — or try out a new Instagram- and trainer-approved hack.
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