In this week’s #QandAWed video we tackle a really valuable question, “how do I tighten my core, abs?” Since this is such an important topic, I wanted to go into more detail than we did in the video here with this post to explain a few key points further and to offer some specific workouts to try to further develop core strength.
What exactly is your “core?”
Your “core” muscles involve much more than just your abs – in fact, these spinal stabilizing muscles run from your shoulder blades, along your spine and back and include the four muscles of the abs (transverse abdominis, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominius) and the major muscles in the hip.
How do I engage it?
The various cues for core engagement may vary depending on the specific movement you are doing, but in general, here are a few ways to turn on the core muscles while standing:
1) Engage your abs from the inside out by drawing your belly button in to your spine (without holding your breath or ‘sucking in’ your stomach) and focus on holding the contraction of the abdominal muscles.
2) Press your shoulder blades down and away from your ears (this helps to ‘cap’ the contraction of the abs and engages the core muscles in your back).
3) Think of ‘lifting up’ through the pelvic floor to engage the muscles in the pelvic floor and deepen the contraction of your abdominal muscles. While not necessarily a defined part of your ‘core,’ contracting the pelvic floor muscles can help you maximize your abdominal contraction, and may additionally build strength in the pelvic floor at the same time.
You may have heard advice to relax the abdominals during pelvic floor work (especially during exercises to help reduce urinary incontinence), but research shows that may be outdated information. As this study suggests, that advice to keep the abdominal wall relaxed when performing pelvic floor exercises is inappropriate and may actually adversely affect the performance of these exercises.
4) Test it out – standing with feet hip width and knees slightly bent, imagine standing on a unstable surface (like a rocky ship or subway train) and shift your weight quickly from one foot to the other, maintaining all of the contractions listed above (you can even place your hands on the sides of your waist to feel these muscles contracting).
Why is a strong core important?
Think of a strong core as your body’s support system – these muscles help you stand taller, move more smoothly, and potentially even lift more weight safely. By stabilizing your spine, your core muscles provide you with a strong, stable foundation for everyday activities like lifting heavy objects (like your toddler) and assist with movements that require balance and coordination (like jumping over that puddle at the last minute).
A strong core may also help boost your workout performance too, which could translate into both a better fitness level and faster results. One 2009 study done by researchers at Barry University found that 6 weeks of core training drills helped improve the performance of recreational and competitive runners.
What are some of the best ways to strengthen your core?
Targeted abs workouts can be great for engaging and strengthening the core, but don’t forget that you can also get build core strength from focusing on it during your total body workouts as well.
Aim for a mix of training that works your core in a multitude of ways, including exercises that involve challenging the core muscles to do what they are designed for — stabilize your spine. While most of our workouts here on JESSICASMITHTV involve engaging the core in some way, here are a few routines to try that really zero in on core strength.
These 3 abs-centric YouTube videos are specifically designed to help you practice deep core engagement:
For more options, check out our full playlist of abs videos here.
These 3 total body workouts that also challenge the core muscles while working the entire body:
For more options, check out our full total body training playlist here.
Tell me, what workouts or exercises have helped you the most when it comes to building core strength? Share with us in the comments below!