How To Properly Contract Your Core

By: Jewel Kessler, SGT Director and NASM-CPT, NASM-FNS

The core is your body’s center of gravity where all movement occurs.  The core comprises of a variety of muscles that attach to the low back, lumbo-pelvic hip complex and hip joints. Examples of core muscles include:

Abdominals (rectus, obliques, transverse, diaphragm)
Back (multifidus, latissimus dorsi, quadratus lumborum)

Muscles that attach to the hips (pelvic floor, psoas major, adductors, hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings)

A strong core helps to prevent injury, improve overall function and posture, enhance movement performance, and contributes to better balance and coordination.

Drawing-in & Bracing are two effective techniques that assist with building core stability and in turn overall strength and power.

Drawing-in is best used to increase function in the transverse abdominis which is the large corset-like muscle that stabilizes your lumbar spine and pelvis. The transverse abdominis also supports the abdominal viscera or ‘belly fat”. If this muscle is weak then it is common to suffer low back pain, spinal compression and have a large waist measurement. To perform the drawing-in technique properly, pull the area just below the navel towards the spine while maintaining your neck and head in a neutral position which includes lengthening the spinal column, chin parallel to the floor and ears over hips.  This simple technique can be done anywhere and will help improve your posture, muscle balance and torso stabilization.

The next time you are at a stop light in your car practice the drawing-in technique. Draw-in your lower abdominal muscles for the duration of the stop light and sit tall in your seat. Breath slowly in and out through the nose.  This will also help to reduce stress and increase mental focus.

Bracing is a contraction of your rectus abdominis (6 pack area), external obliques (sides of your abs), and quadratus lumborum (low back). Practicing the bracing technique regularly will improve the stabilization of the spine.  This simple but intense isometric exercise can help improve your overall endurance and strength performance.

Sample Exercises

Two-Leg Floor Bridge – Excellent for anyone with a anterior pelvic tilt or sway back!

1.    Lay on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, toes shoulder-width apart and pointing straight ahead.

2.    Lift pelvis off the floor until the knees, hips, and shoulders are in line. Contract gluteal muscles.

3.    Slowly lower pelvis to the floor

4.    Repeat 12 – 20 times, 2 to 3 sets.

Avoid hyperextending the low back to avoid compressing the lumbar spine.

Floor Prone Cobra – Excellent for anyone with rounded shoulders!

  1. Lie on your stomach.
  2. Contract your gluteal muscles and pinch your shoulder blades together.
  3. Lift chest off the floor with thumbs pointed up and arms externally rotated (shown in picture).
  4. Hold for 2 seconds. Keep chin tucked.
  5. Slowly return body to the floor.
  6. Repeat 12 – 20 times, 2 – 3 sets.

Avoid hyperextending the low back like the floor bridge.

Isometric Plank

  1. Lie on the floor on your stomach with your feet together and forearms on the ground.
  2. Lift the entire body off the ground until it forms a straight line from head to toe, rest of forearms and balls of feet. Press through heels and lift in knees and quadriceps.
  3. Keep chin tucks and back flat in neutral position.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, 2 to 3 sets.

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