Part 2: How to Properly Activate Your CORE
For those of you who read my last post (Part 1: The Truth About Your Core), I hope you learned something new about your “real core muscles”. I hope that you now think about your transversus abdominus, your multifidus and your pelvic floor muscles when you hear the word “core”. If you haven’t yet read it, I suggest you do so before learning how to activate your core in the remainder of this article.
My goal for the rest of this blog post is to give you an idea of how one would start to correctly activate their core muscles. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a lot of time and practice … So don’t get frustrated if you can’t get it right away. Take time to practice and eventually it will become second nature! LLet’sget started ….
Step 1: How to palpate (feel) your Transversus Abdominus
The process of learning how to recruit your core will be most effective if I first teach you how to feel for your transversus abdominus muscle. The first step is to lay on your back on a firm surface with your knees bent (feet on the floor). Place your fingertips on the bony prominences at the front of your hips called your ASIS (Anterior Superior Iliac Spines). From there, move your fingers down and in a little bit. If you sink your fingers down into that soft space then you will be in the right spot to feel the transversus abdominus contract.
Now, while palpating your transversus abdominus, make a ssss sound as you exhale. The muscle that gently tenses under your fingers should be the transversus abdominus contracting.
Step 2: What am I supposed to feel?
When you properly isolate your transversus abdominus you should NOT feel a strong contraction or muscle bulge underneath your fingertips. If you feel that the muscles are pushing your fingertips up towards the ceiling, then you are doing it wrong!
What you should aim to feel a mild hardening or tensioning underneath your fingers deep within your abdominal cavity. You should try to isolate this contraction without any other surrounding muscle activity occurring.
Here are some Do’s & Don’ts to think about when learning how to isolate the activation of your Transversus Abdominus:
- Hold your breath
- Elevate or depress your ribcage
- Increase the pressure within your abdominal cavity (ie. “bearing down”)
- Let movement occur within your low back, pelvis or hip region
- Try to feel a big muscle bulge underneath your fingers
- Relax and slow your breathing
- Attempt to contact your core on the exhale phase of breathing (Relax on the inhale phase)
- Aim to only feel a subtle tensioning of the muscles deep under your fingertips
Step 3: How to Isolate and Contract Your Transversus Abdominus
Now that you know what to do and what not to do during your core contraction, lets actually teach you how to contract it!!! There are numerous different cues and techniques that healthcare professionals can utilize to help individuals learn how to activate their core correctly. I find it most effective to teach people to contract their transversus abdominus on the exhale phase of the breathing cycle.
Below I have listed a bunch of different cues that can help you to activate your core muscles correctly. They don’t all work for everyone, so play around with them and see what one works best for you!!
- Gently contract the muscles underneath your fingertips by trying to pull them down towards your spine (essentially, think about the muscles underneath your fingers getting pulled away from your fingertips).
- Think about a string that connects the inside of the 2 pelvic bones together. Try to contract the muscles that would pull the two ends of the string together.
- Contact your pelvic floor by pulling the muscles between your pubic bone and tailbone upwards inside you (think of an elevator slowly elevating).
It is very important that you learn how to activate and isolate your core muscles before starting to strengthen them through higher-level exercises. Therefore, use this as a guide to begin working on improving your core health!
If you have any challenges or problems during this process please follow-up with your general practitioner or trusted healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can also work with you to ensure that you are engaging your core effectively and to create a gradual core-strengthening program that is appropriate for your level of functioning.
If you have any questions specific to this article please contact:
Teresa Agar, MScPT, BHKin
Trailside Physio – Coquitlam Clinic