What If We Said You’ve Only Been Working 25% Of Your Core?

Did you know there are four major abdominal muscles? Did you know you are probably not activating them?

Image Credit: University of Liverpool on Flickr.
Image Credit: University of Liverpool on Flickr.

I tell most of my clients and students to “brace their core” or “pull belly button into your spine.” I probably sound like a broken record to them, but there is a reason to my madness! Your core is the most important thing to remember in everything that you do, so let’s get to the core of it!

Let’s Look At Some Abs

A little anatomy lesson: there are four major abdominal muscles…

    1. Transverse Abdominus: this is the deepest muscle layer. It stabilizes the torso and maintains abdominal pressure.
    2. Rectus Abdominus: the outer layer of the abdomen, commonly known as the “six pack.” It originates from the rib cage and stretches all the way down to the pubic bone. The main function is to move the body between the ribcage and pelvis.
    3. External Obliques: Located on the sides of the rectus abdominus, they allow the torso to twist. When you turn left, the right oblique contracts.
    4. Internal Obliques: Located on the sides of the rectus abdominus, underneath the external obliques, they connect to the hip bones. They do the opposite of what the external obliques do. When turning left, the left oblique contracts.

What’s So Special About Them?

With all these layers of muscle to help us out, it’s surprising that a lot of the time we aren’t actually activating our core. It is very easy for other muscles to jump in and help. In this day and age where it’s easy to sit around a lot, we get lazy and forget to contract these muscles.

Let’s try a little experiment while you’re reading this. Try drawing your stomach in and bracing your core as if you are wearing a corset. Was that hard? Did you notice if you needed to shift your position to do this? If you sat up or stood up straighter, then fantastic! You just engaged your core! Now hold that through your everyday life, workout and yoga practice, and breathe. Sounds tiring doesn’t it? That is how much you need to be aware of your core in everything that you do.

The core is important because it helps support your spine and improves your balance; the thinner waistline is just an aesthetic plus! These muscles are your center and connect to other major parts of your body. Once the core is strengthened it affects the rest of the body, taking pressure off the joints and transferring it to the muscles to do the work.

Top Reasons to Strengthen Your Core

Image Credit: Christopher Cambell on Unsplash.
Image Credit: Christopher Cambell on Unsplash.

1. Banish Back Pain

Most times when someone’s core is weak it’s because their back is overly strong. We must balance that out and relieve some pressure off the back by strengthening the core. Being conscious and aware of your abdomen in every activity will help activate it, especially while you are doing yoga.

2. Help Prevent Injury

Most injuries occur due to a weak core, even in yoga. Having a rock solid core ensures that your movements will be strong and pain free.

3. Protect Inner Organs and Central Nervous System

Your core is very appropriately named because this is an epicenter for your vital organs and central nervous system. This is where they do all their busy work and it is important to keep them safe! Having a strong core relieves the pressure off the organs and spinal cord.

4. Good Posture

Especially important in yoga, having good posture in āsanas is key. Outside of yoga, your good posture also gives an air of confidence that improves relationships and mood! Slouching is not only bad for your core but it comes off as insecure.  

How To Strengthen Your Core

Image Credit: John Hayato on Flickr.
Image Credit: John Hayato on Flickr.

There are multiple ways to strengthen your core but a wonderful way is through yoga! The most basic and common pose for this is Table Top and Plank variations. They are a great starter point and base to start your practice everyday. Here’s how…

  1. Come to the floor on your hands and knees (plank version you’ll have your knees off the ground). Bring the knees hip width apart, with the feet directly behind the knees. Bring the palms directly under the shoulders with the fingers facing forward.
  2. Look down between the palms and allow the back to be flat. Press into the palms to drop the shoulders slightly away from the ears. Press the tail bone towards the back wall and the crown of the head towards the front wall to lengthen the spine.
  3. Extend the right leg back, flexing the foot while reaching forward with the left hand. Keep the back flat while doing this.
  4. Hold for three breaths then switch sides, for five times on each side.

Core, core, and more core!

You can never work your core enough. It’s one of those magical muscle groups you can work every single day! Remember to always brace your core in everything that you do and be sure to check out my core strengthening flow for a challenging little workout routine.

You can also find out more about Mula Bandha, a deep pelvic floor muscle to help engage your core. Let me know if you notice a difference after becoming more aware of your core. Are there other exercises or poses you like to do for your core?

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Zen Monkey, a sub-division of YogaLondon, is an online conduit for yoga students and teachers to share ideas and develop a catalogue of content that is informative, creative and fun. We are a community founded from the collection of writers and yogis we've mentored, worked with and been inspired by. Together, we are building a tribe that shares the tools, the inspiration and the motivation to lead a healthy, mindful and sustainable life.