How do I know if or when my core is activated?
A question that gets asked by 90% of people who walk through the door.
In order to understand if your core is activated or how to activate it, a foundational knowledge of what it is and what its main role is needed.
What is my core and what does it do?
Your core is comprised of the muscles between your diaphragm and your pelvic floor. It wraps around your torso adding stability and protection to your lumbar spine/ lower back.
Coke can analogy:
If we have 2 cans, we open one and keep the other closed and then stand on them both, one collapses, and one maintains its structure. The closed can is what we want your core to be like. It has a top, bottom, sides and a seam down the back.
The top is your diaphragm, the bottom your pelvic floor, the sides your transverse abdominus and multifidus and the seam if your spine.
When we add load to the can the pressure within increases to enable it to maintain its shape. Likewise, when we add load by contracting one of the components of your core the intra-abdominal pressure (pressure within your abdomen) increases as the sides contract and push in, this stabilises your torso and protects your lower back especially as external load and more complex movements are applied.
How do I activate my core?
Everyone will have their own spin on how they teach this but one way that goes back to the foundations and allows people to start with the basics and feel confident moving forward is learning how to find neutral spine.
Finding the neutral spine position is important when learning to activate the core because studies have found that your transverse abdominus and pelvic floor muscles activate the easiest when in this position. 
- Start lying on your back
- Feet flat on the mat, hip width apart.
- In this position rock the pelvic back and forth allowing your lower back to arch and flatten into the mat.
- Find the middle point where your lower back has a little gap under it. In this position your hip bones at the front and your pubic bone should all sit level with one another and horizontal to the floor, if you are tilted too far one way, your pubic bone may sit higher than your hip bones or your hip bones may sit higher than your pubic bones.
- Sink the back of your ribcage into the mat by imagining a heavy stack of books sitting on your chest and pushing you flat against the floor.
- Shoulder placement is found but reaching the hands, arms and shoulders towards the ceiling. You should feel the shoulder blades gently glide around the sides of the ribcage from under the mat.
- Gently nod the chin towards the chest keeping your jaw relaxed. To allow this, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth and keep the jaw slightly open.
Engaging the musculature of the core whilst maintaining neutral spine.
This can be found through abdominal activation or through using your pelvic floor.
- Abdominal activation: starting in the neutral spine position and hovering the arms by the sides of the hips, pulse the arms up and down 5 x per inhale and 5 x per exhale.
- Pelvic floor: starting in neutral spine position practicing. Engage the pelvic floor by lifting the muscular sling running from the public bone to the tail bone (similar feeling to holding in a wee). There should be a gentle tightening of the lower abdominals and not a bulging. Once engaged, take a few breaths maintaining the contraction and then relax.
Try both methods and find which works best for you, then keep practicing!
Now that you’ve got an understanding of the basics of how to activate your core, you can start progressing the exercises to add arm or leg movements or add load/ resistance.
For guidance on progression, book an appointment here or give us a call on 8964 4086.
If you’re still struggling to feel your lower abdominals and core activate, book an appointment with one of your local physios to take you through step by step, with various positions and cues that will work best for you.
- Lynders, C. The Critical Role of Development of the Transversus Abdominis in the Prevention and Treatment of Low Back Pain. 2019