Happy First Friday! Technically we still have over a month before Summer is here, but May has always marked the beginning of the summer season. Today is supposed to have a high of 81º and you can bet we will be getting outside for some sunshine fun. How about you? Well since summer is on its way, I thought it high time to share an important aspect of getting into shape: Being Engaged.
This sign used to hang in my cubicle at work, along with other motivational quotes. It was a philosophy I was familiar with. Somewhere in my life, I had developed the habit of sucking my stomach in, even when I was dancing. I legitimately thought that was what I was supposed to be doing as I worked out. It wasn’t until a few years after I had returned to dance that I had a teacher who taught us what we were actually supposed to be doing.
You see, sucking in is just that. Sucking in. You’re not really working anything in your core when you suck your stomach in, which is a misconception I had all those years. Really the only thing you’re doing is preventing yourself from breathing deep enough to fill up your lungs. So yeah, you might look a little better when you’re sucking your stomach in, but it’s a temporary fix. And I don’t know about you, but I always seemed to forget to keep sucking my stomach in about 10 seconds later.
When you engage your muscles, not only are you working your muscles, but it allows your whole body to line up in proper placement. As a dancer, one of our rules is “tuck the butt”. This does not mean, as I also thought for many years, you tilt your pelvis forward. When you engage your core muscles, your butt automatically falls into that tucked state, giving yourself a nice line, as is the ballerina way. Engaging your muscles also means that you’re working more than just the rectus abdominis. In fact, a properly engaged core is having all of your core muscles working together.
Being properly engaged in the core isn’t just for when you’re standing at the barre, either. It comes into play when you’re lying on your back working those sit ups or butterfly kicks; when you’re trying to hold that plank position; even when you’re doing those Roman Deadlifts.
How Do I Engage?
So how do you know if you’re actually engaging your core?
Well, first of all, you should become familiar with your abdominal muscles. Start by finding and targeting your transverse abdominis. A simple way to find the transverse abdominis, and familiarize yourself with the what an engaged core feels like is to do this:
While standing up straight, take your first two fingers and feel along your abs, and find your hip bones. Walk your fingers slightly inward (toward each other but not touching, just a few centimeters, really). Your muscles should be loose and will feel squishy. Now, take a deep breath and slowly let it out. As you do, you should begin to feel the muscles under your fingers tighten. That is an engaged core.
Another way is to do the same thing, but instead of taking a deep breath and letting it out, imagine a string is pulling all of your muscles together (yep like a corset). If you’re doing it properly, you’ll get the same tightened feeling beneath your fingers.
As you properly engage your muscles, your pelvis will also fall in line (if your looking in a mirror, your butt will tuck and your back will show less of a curve) but it will not tip forward. If you see a noticeable curve or jutting out, then you’re using your pelvis, not your core.
(I hope I explained this in a way that was understandable. I honestly have such a hard time not engaging anymore that I have to mentally go through a check list to loosen up.)
Why is this Important?
We use our abdominal muscles for so much more than we are aware of. I honestly didn’t realize just how much I used mine until after Ade was born. They are our stabilizers in everything we do. We need a strong core even when we’re not working out. A strong and properly engaged core helps our balance, our posture, it even helps us build up our muscles in other areas of our body. Trust me, a strong core is pretty important.
Do you properly engage your core or have you been sucking it in? Do you notice a difference when you engage vs sucking in?