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    diene's Avatar
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    Engaging Your Core

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    Last week, while practicing pullups and ring pushups (yeah right), one of my crossfit coaches told me that once I obtain better core stability, all of these things will become easier. She said that I should practice keeping my core engaged at all times in order to build up endurance in those muscles. She said that the proper posture is to have your core engaged at all times so that when you're standing, your spine is more or less in a straight line instead of curved. She said that once I'm used to that, it will be second nature and that standing with my core relaxed will actually feel weird.

    Since then I've been practicing (as much as I can remember to) keeping my core engaged while standing, walking, sitting, etc. I find it difficult to breathe when I have my core engaged. Not sure why. It's not like I can't breathe. I mean, I can still breathe, it's just that I have to make a conscious effort to breathe? I don't know, it's weird.

    So, do all of you go about with your core engaged all the time? Anyone else know what I'm talking about regarding the breathing? Any tips on how to go about making this second nature? (Other than just do it?)

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    I took a core fitness class for almost a year with the mantra to keep my core engaged all through the class. I got nowhere. Unless the work I'm doing actually requires my core be engaged, just trying to engage it doesn't happen.

    Okay, so I do squats, presses, deadlifts. That's supposed to engage my core, right? I must be a genius at being able to do things without any core strength because I never felt like I was working very hard on my core but hey, I'm lifting the weight so my core must be engaged. Then I was shown how to do an overhead squat with a 25lb bar. Holy crap. So THAT'S what the core does? I have no core strength at all.

    If I want core strength I have to actually force my core to work. I still haven't found a good way to do that.
    Female, 5'3", 49, Starting weight: 163lbs. Current weight: 135 (more or less).
    Starting squat: 45lbs. Highest squat: 167.5 x 2. Current Deadlift: 190 x 3

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    Pilates was great for learning how to engage your core and keep it engaged. All of the v-sit positions pretty much demand an engaged core to protect your back. I just push my belly button into my spine and breathe so it pushes air down through the belly. You can feel it with practice, then it becomes easier to do it all the time. Dead lifts and squats are much more effective (and safer) that way too.

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    Careful not to sacrifice your spine to engage your core. Some people tend to think that to engage the core means tucking the pelvis and shortening the abdominal muscle while flattening the lower back. Just leads to more injuries. They forget that the erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings are all part of the core. Keep your spine elongated and the front of your body "long and wide" while practicing your movements. Much safer.

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    Neckhammer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post
    If I want core strength I have to actually force my core to work. I still haven't found a good way to do that.
    Take up grappling. Nothing engages your core like working against an opponent

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    Finding breathing to be a conscious effort while keeping your "core engaged" is not weird at all: you're probably tightening your diaphragm, which is also a muscle, or prohibiting it from working properly because you've tightened the muscles around it!

    I personally don't think you're going to get anything useful from keeping your core engaged all the time (unless you want to look constipated or ready to punch someone out). You want to build your core through functional movement, so that it can in turn AID your functional movement. Your core is also composed of several different muscle groups that are engaged through different movements, and they all need attention.

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    Allenete's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes View Post

    If I want core strength I have to actually force my core to work. I still haven't found a good way to do that.
    My favourite at the moment when I'm in the house, kettle-bell swings and kettle-bell sideways bends!

    For the sideways bends you do need to go with a heavy kettlebell, but for the swings even a 12-16kg (25-30lb??) does the job quite well.

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    This is more complex than you know, but I'll take a crack at it online.

    First, in order to draw the spine into the right alignment, you have to align the pelvis.

    Most of us think our pelvis is aligned, but most of us are not using our glutes properly and drawing the tailbone into the right position. So, the glutes are weak (yes, even if you lift weights and have strong glutes. you may not be accessing them for posture properly.

    with this, it's likely that your psoas and illiacus is really tight, which makes it much harder to hold your pelvis properly.

    I say this becaus eit is true of me, and i've worked posture my whole freaking life.

    But anyway, this disadvantages the abdominals, which causes our "gut" to drop out forward, and creates a huge arch in the lumbar spine and usually the thoracic-lumbar junction as well.

    So, how do you fix?

    Start with "mountain pose." Bring your feet together, and stand as tall as you can. Then, lift the arches of your feet and roll the weight forward a bit out of your heels and toward the balls of your feet (the whole foot stays grounded, it's just that most of us are rocked back on our heels).

    Then, engage your thighs as if you are "pushing the earth away" (or springing out of it). Really strong thighs.

    Next, draw your tailbone down toward your heels. You'll feel your glute medius engage, which feels like muscle moving along your underwear line (in a french cut, honestly, but htat's a complex description).

    Then, without moving your feet, pull your heels toward each other. This will engage your inner thighs, your glute max, AND lengthen the front of your legs and hips.

    Now, your pelvis is likely in the right position.

    What you'll also feel is that your belly automatically pulls in when you do this, and your lower back is lengthened. It doesn't go to straight/flat. There is still a curve, but it is far less than most of us usually hold.

    Second, you'll want to release the upper part of the psoas. This is really hard.

    Now, the psoas connects at the front of your lumbar vertebrae, weaves through your pelvis, connects with the illiacus (which connects at front-back illiac crest of your hip bone), and then forms one nice, big and strong tendon heading into the front, slightly inside part of your thigh bone.

    For most of is, this front, lower part is tight because it's holding us up instead of the glutes, and then the upper part is tight because it's holding us up at the thoracic lumbar junction rather than the big muscles of the lats and spinal erectors (which braid up your back).

    So, we need to release this part, by bringing the floating ribs "back" over the pelvis. This feels like a "crunch" at the belly button. If you put your hands at your belly button and push back, rounding your back (go ahead and bring your chest forward like a standing crunch), and pushing your floating ribs back over your pelvis. By the way, this isn't easy to feel -- so doing it by a mirror can be helpful.

    Now, this will create a "cave" under your rib cage. It's no real "effort" in the abs, it just happens.

    At this point, you take a deep breath and lift yourself up form your thoracic spine, externally rotating your arms to engage your lats. if your elbows are somehow behind your back or waist (look from the side), then you are over-arching your back, and you need to draw the rib cage back again -- trying to release the psoas.

    Now, once you have this position, you'll fee that you are using a lot of muscle, and it may be hard to breathe. This is because most of us don't breathe properly -- even if we can manage to find the diaphragm.

    When you are holding your belly in, the diaphragm can't go down into the cavity of the belly like it normally does for most of us. So, what it will attempt to do instead is push outwards (opening the rib cage outwards) and then also push the rib cage up, lengthening the back at the thoracic lumbar junction and lower part of the thoracic spine.

    this is really hard to 'get' and feel -- and it takes a LOT of practice. I still practice it. In fact, I still practice all of this and much more besides. because even though I've been working on posture for YEARS, the reality is that I didn't fully get it.

    Most of us are walking around all twisted up with no clue about it other than the fact that we are stiff in some places and fine in others. THis is because we are advantaging and disadvantaging different sides of the body and large and smaller muscle groups and all mucked up.

    But this is a start. It's a good start, too.

    Also, practice it for 3-4 deep breaths at a time, then break, then try again. Practice it throughout the day, and in about 3-4 months, your pelvis will liekly be aligned and possibly psoas released too. And then, the abs will be more toned as well. It is difficult, but you can get there.

    I practice a lot, now that I'm aware. I'm sore all the time. Training-style soreness. It's amazing.

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    Thankyou for this, Zoe.

  10. #10
    diene's Avatar
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    Thanks Zoe! I'm printing that out and practicing.

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