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Core Muscles

This week Coriander Firmager discusses the importance of our core muscles. These are important in every day activities and need to be “engaged” in order to exercise safely. So core muscles really do matter. Here’s what Cori has to say…

“Many of you may have been to a gym or an exercise class and heard the words ‘engage your core’ or ‘set your core’, and hopefully you were instructed on how to do this.  However there are common misconceptions about what core stabilisation is and how it may be improved.

In fact it is possible to have a ‘six pack’ and yet still have poor core strength.  As an aside a six pack (rectus abdominus) that can be seen is mostly the result of reduced body fat.  The main function of rectus abdominus is actually to flex the trunk as in sit ups, whereas the muscles that are actually responsible for core control lie deeper and require a different type of exercise.

Where the core is weak daily tasks are more challenging and the body is at much greater risk of injury, especially the lower back.  Sedentary lifestyles and life being generally less physically demanding means the core stabilisers are not challenged often enough and they can become’lazy’.

How to start developing better core control

  • Start by lying on your back, use a foam mat or a thick towel for comfort but make sure the surface under the mat is firm.  Wear comfortable, flexible clothing without a belt.
  • Bend your legs so feet are flat on the floor.  Arms by your sides, palms facing up.
  • Imagine you are drawing your tummy button through to the spine.  This should feel like a subtle sensation and it stimulates the transverse abdominus muscle to fire (this runs like a belt around your middle giving the spine more strength through increasing intra-abdominal pressure) and some contraction of the multifidus (multifidus is located at your lower back and it stabilises the spine).
  • The pelvic floor should be drawn up; this is the same muscle you contract to stop the flow of urine.
  • Remember to keep breathing and focus on breathing through the diaphragm rather than the ribcage.  When recalling core activation during a resistance exercise it is important to breathe out on the working phase, this increases the intra-abdominal pressure and helps the correct contraction of the core stabilisers.
  • Now raise your pelvis off the floor (supine bridge) maintaining the subtle feeling of the tummy button drawing towards the spine, the pelvic floor drawing up and hold that position, it is important to stop and start again if you lose the subtle feeling and other muscle groups start to take over.

Once you have the feeling of the core muscles firing this will need to be challenged further to progress.  There are many exercises that will provide progression overtime but I have included the next natural progression.

  • From the supine bridge position raise and extend one leg.  Be mindful that the body should maintain the same position as during the bridge without twisting to compensate.
  • Then alternate to the other leg with a short rest in-between.

Whenever you are about to engage in an exercise remind yourself how to implement core control.

Specific developmental core control exercises should be done toward the end of a workout as if done at the beginning the core muscles will tire and fail to stabilise you during other exercises.”

“If in doubt, always consult a GP or fitness professional before beginning a new exercise regime, particularly if you have a medical condition for which it may not be advisable.”

Coriander Firmager is a qualified personal trainer based near Yeovil. To contact her direct please email: or phone 07968 033642