In 2009 I was training for my first half Ironman and decided to explore Pilates as a way to increase my flexibility. What I didn't know was that I would learn a lesson that would not only give me better athletic performance but also help me to prevent injury. "Engage your core". You hear it all the time but what does it really mean?
When I met my personal trainer Sheila Grace (if you live in Chicago I highly recommend trying one of her classes at Demi-Bar Pilates in Hinsdale, IL demi-barpilates.com), I was your typical athlete who thought "engage your core" simply meant suck it in and try and show off your abs. She taught me that my thinking was actually the complete opposite of what I should be doing and that your core muscles consist of much more than the highly desired six pack.
Once I figured out how to do this effectively I started using the technique in all aspects of my life. It became second nature to think about this movement in everything I did. I wasn't just "engaging my core" while running or biking but also during household chores such as raking, shoveling snow and picking up the laundry basket. The results were incredible...
I was seeing a drastic improvement in everything I did, especially sports. It was like a new wave of energy. I was able to run further, bike faster, and swim longer all while exerting less energy. I also noticed a huge difference in my golf and tennis swings as they seemed more powerful and technically sound. Overall, it was eye opening to see how critical core strength is to athletic performance.
Another thing I noticed was that they frequency of my injuries and general aches/pains was rapidly decreasing. The core’s primary function is to stabilize your body’s frame. Jeff Rothstein, an exercise physiologist and Director of Sports Enhancement at the PT Center for Sports Medicine , says, “Whether you’re sitting, walking, running, or jumping, the core must stabilize the trunk in order to move efficiently and under control.”
A weak core leads to overcompensation from other muscles groups, which in turn leads to....you guessed it....injury.
Lets take a look at how to properly "engage your core" :
Dr. Kerrie Reed From "Functional Health" explains how to properly engage your core:
- Use your front six-pack abdominal muscle to “pull up” on the front of your pelvis (not in), then bear down a little in order to push your abdomen out in all directions.
- Try using a quick, forceful grunt to help you push your mid-section outward as if bracing it for a punch to the gut. Do it repeatedly to really get the feel.
- Your core naturally engages as the very first step in coughing or laughing. So another way to get the feel for how to correctly activate your core is by initiating one of those actions–you’re looking for that abdominal activation that takes place just before any cough or laugh actually occurs.
- Or rest your hands on either side of your abdomen and try to push them away using only your abdominal muscles.
It is a little tricky at first but I promise it will become second nature. Good Luck!
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