Have you ever heard a fitness professional say “activate” or “engage” your core before doing any exercises?
Do you know what that core activation means?
Do you know why you need to do it?
Do you know where your core is and how exactly to activate it?
We moms really need to do it, and I’m going to explain to you all about it.
When you hear me say “activate” your core, or other instructors may say “engage” your core, before getting into a specific pose or while exercising, this means many things to many people. Everyone does it differently, since everyone’s sensations are somewhat different.
The reason, we instructors, are saying this is because we want you to:
protect and train your core
stimulate healing in your core and
prevent your pelvic floor to have troubles in the future.
I want to give you a guideline that you can use as a general rule on how to activate your core, but how you feel it in your body will be up to you.
So what is your core?
Generally your core includes 4 main parts of your body:
– multifidus muscles (run along your spine),
– pelvic floor muscles (at the bottom of your pelvis),
– diaphragm (the “breathing muscle”), and
– transversus abdominis (the deepest layer of your abdominal muscles).
Although your core is a lot more than just these 4 parts, but more about it another day.
We have intra-abdominal pressure inside of us that allows us to breath. It allows our diaphragm to descend (while lungs fill up with air). When the diaphragm goes down, the pelvic floor goes down too. (read about it in this blog).
So the core is really a huge part of our body, literally the whole trunk. It works for you to stabilize your movements and actually allows you to move your body in different ways, walking, bending, lifting up legs, knees, arms etc.
Every person on the planet needs to have a functional core, in order to do the movements of the body. That’s why all the instructors and physiotherapists are obsessed with core exercises. It’s not only about how your 6 pack tummy looks!
Why do we need core activation?
After giving birth we all have some degree of prolapse (descent of internal pelvic organs into the vaginal canal or rectum), that normally heals on its own (if we rest enough after birth). If we are lifting something heavy (even if it’s just our legs) it sends intra-abdominal pressure down to the pelvic floor, worsening the prolapse. By “activating” your core and pelvic floor, you’re protecting and training your pelvic floor muscles and the whole core. (Read my blog here about how to lift your strollers and car-seats safely for your body. )
Even if we had a baby 10 years ago, some of us can still have issues like incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic girdle pain, low back pain, hip pain, and even shoulder pain. Those challenges can be avoided if you properly (I mean in a healthy and functional way) train your core.
In pregnancy and further in postpartum, the whole core muscles operate differently, as it shifts its functions to one another.
For example your oblique muscles (on the side of the body) take up a lot more work during pregnancy, allowing the front muscles of the tummy to relax and stretch for the baby. Therefore, in postpartum, tummy muscles are fragile and obliques take up a lot of tension. (side note: Please do not do any strenuous exercises or lift anything heavy in the first 12-18 weeks after pregnancy).
So whether you’re on the yoga mat or at your usual daily activity, core activation is beneficial for you (but DONT squeeze the heck out of it).
What does it mean to “activate” or “engage” your core?
Before I turned my life into learning all about female physiology I too didn’t know what my instructor meant when they said “activate” or “engage” your core.
Although I prefer the word “activate”, because in postpartum we don’t want to fully tense our core. Instead, we want to slightly contract and activate it.
When I say “activate” your core during our yoga sessions, what I mean is that you should bring your full attention to your core (all 4 parts) to stimulate your muscles. This way when you do lift things the action comes from the core, reducing the abdominal pressure on your pelvic floor.
Here are my favorite 3 ways to core activation.
The main key here is your breath! Do NOT ever hold your breath!
Let’s do it. We can do it standing, seated or lying on the mat.
Inhale, be present in your body in the moment. Relax all of you.
Exhale, and see if you can notice your tummy muscles and pelvic floor mildly contract while exhaling.
Inhale, let go of all the sensations.
Exhale, notice if there is anything going on in the pelvic floor and tummy,
Inhale, let it go.
The movements and sensations are very very settled. Sometimes it’s hard to feel the pelvic floor especially if you birthed your baby recently. But stay with the sensations, no matter how mild they are.
On your exhale, breath out with pursed lips. For many of us just this action alone can activate your whole core.
Inhale through your nose, letting go of all the tension.
Exhale, through your pursed lips and feel how your pelvic floor and the whole core contract.
Inhale, let go.
“S” breath. This is a really fun one.
Inhale through the nose,
Exhale, push your tongue towards the top front teeth, making Sssss sound.
Sometimes it helps to visualize how your pelvic floor and tummy muscles would contract if you had a blueberry or elevator in there. 🙂
Imagine there is a blueberry that you need to lift in with your vagina. You don’t want to squeeze that blueberry. You want to gently lift it up by using your pelvic floor muscles and whole core.
Or, imagine a tiny elevator that you need to lift inside your pelvis. With your exhale you lift it up with your pelvic floor contraction and it goes all the way up to your diaphragm, contracting the deepest layer of your tummy along the way. (this imagery is weird but fun;). (watch it here).
Practice one of these exercises or all of them on a daily basis. This one thing alone can really help you with healing and toning your core muscles. But mainly it will help you to become aware of your body and its sensations.
Make sure you give plenty of room for relaxation. We don’t want to just contract it all all of the time. We need contraction, followed by relaxation. That’s why I guide you to let it all go on the inhale.
It’s very beneficial for everybody to activate their core, especially for mom’s before lifting things, before diving into a yoga pose, before exercising in the gym and so on.
Of course it’s not possible to control your body all day! I get it! But what I know is that if you train your body bit by bit consistently, your body will activate your core automatically. Without you even thinking about it.
Contact me if you have any questions, I’m always happy to chat.
Have a great day!
P.S.: If you’re leaking pee when jumping, sneezing or coughing it also relates to your core directly. Get my free yoga practice and tips on how to manage Urinary Incontinence here.