There’s a behaviour that’s spread through the fitness industry like a plague.
It’s in every fitness class, Personal Training session, and in the majority of coached sports sessions.
It’s become a supposed “teaching point”.
And even entire fitness styles, like Pilates, have it as their founding principle.
But the problem is, it’s an absolute load of rubbish, and to make things worse, it’s actually CONTRIBUTING to your injuries.
What is it?
“Engaging” your core.
It’s sometimes called “bracing”, or “activating” but really it’s creating stiffness in the abdominals, adductors and hip flexors, and putting excessive strain on your glutes, hamstrings and lower back.
And I can show you how…
…just open one hand as wide as you possibly can. Now close it. Curl all your fingers in the make a fist. Now repeat that a few times. Easy isn’t it? Now do it again, but notice how, when you curl your fingers into a fist, the muscles on the back of your hand have to lengthen to allow the fingers to move – and the same happens when you want to open your fist. The muscles in the back of your hand shorten and the muscles in the palm side of your hand have to lengthen.
This is the natural way that bodies function.
Some lengthen, some shorten but all are moving.
They work together, spreading the load and creating the movement you wanted.
Now try to the hand opening and closing exercise keeping one finger still.
Harder isn’t it?
Did you notice how your moving fingers couldn’t open or close as far? Did you notice how much more effort it was for your moving fingers to do the job?
Now, let’s apply that to your core.
If you make one part of it stay still, not only are you increasing the strain on the rest of your body, but you’re actually teaching your body to function in a way that is completely opposite to its natural methods.
So, rather than “activating” or “engaging” your core, you’re actually asking it to NOT be involved in the movement and natural stability of your body.
If you add to this, the fact that most “squeezing” of the core is a complete over-reaction to the activity involved (i.e. too much tension is created compared to that which is needed), and you’ve got yourself an over-stimulated, unnaturally functioning, tight, short and stiff area of the body that’s SUPPOSED to be helping to stabilise your spine.
We’ve already seen that if one set of muscles shortens, the opposite ones must lengthen, so if your core muscles are short and tight, that means your glutes, lower back and hamstrings are pulled long – which puts them in a position that makes it really hard to shorten, which reduces how much they can contribute to the movement of your body, and that’s why they are often labelled as “weak” by therapists and body-workers.
So, is having your abdominals draw in a BAD thing?
Actually, no. Not at all.
But we DON’T want a drawing in of the abdominals at the expense of the function of other muscles – for the very BEST function of your body, we need a CO-ACTIVATION of ALL the muscles involved.
How do we achieve this?
Definitely NOT by “squeezing” that’s for sure!
We achieve it simply by putting your body in a position where it can perform the action you require – NATURALLY.
If you want your glutes to fire, simply tip your head back when you’re standing up. The further you try to look back like this, the harder your glutes will fire – naturally. No effort, no “squeezing”, no thought.
If you want your abdominals to draw in, simply think about pushing your sacrum (the part of your spine that’s below your lower back and goes all the way down to your tail bone) slightly forwards.
As the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the back of your pelvis/spine start to shorten (because of the forward movement), the muscles in your abdomen will start to lengthen, but they’ll also draw inwards to help control the forward movement of your pelvis/spine.
This tiny movement allows your core to function naturally – WITHOUT over-stimulating (and therefore shortening) your abdominals, adductors and hip flexors.
By restoring the NATURAL activation of your core, your legs will be free to move independently of your core (which they can’t do when you “engage” your core in the traditional sense), which will help restore your optimal stride length in running, body position in the water and kick strength when swimming and power output when cycling. In fact, it’ll help you improve just about ANY technique issue involving the legs that you’re currently struggling with AND exponentially improve your performance while you’re at it.
You can give it a go at the SAME TIME as showing the rest of your spine some love with my FREE Spine Revitaliser Video Playlist.
Simply follow along with me in this series of simple to follow moves!