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  • Writer's pictureDionne Smith

What is a core and how do I get one?

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

There is a lot of confusion on how to train the core, so I want to go back to basics and discuss the most important element of core training - proper breathing.

My biggest bug bear especially for new mums, often found in group exercise classes is a trainer yelling...

“Engage your core.” “Activate the transverse abdominis.”

"Turn on the deep core"


It is a skill to make sure you’re actually engaging your core.

So to be clear when I talk about the core I am talking about the diaphragm, pelvic floor, transverse abdominus and multifidus. They work alongside the glutes to provide a stable foundation for the body’s movements. They are working as a unit all day as you inhale and exhale.

Last year, a client came to me with recurring back pain. She had been doing pilates for the 2 years but was suffering from chronic lower back and hip pain. After her assessment I could tell her that pelvis was anteriorally tilted. By sticking out her bum and arching her back on the reformer machine, her core was switching off through every movement. The result, her hip flexors were taking all the work on, leading to overuse and a pinching pain, as well as, pressure on the lower back.

Once I taught her to fire her core, she was able to understand her dependancy on the hip flexors and reduce the strain she was putting on them. I didn't stop her from doing pilates, instead I coached her to do pilates efficiently, actually engaging her core through the use of her breath. Perhaps most importantly I moved her in to a world of being pain free.

Whilst the truth is nothing in your body works in isolation, you need to understand what “activating your deep core” feels like before you can move on to more complex rotational, anti rotation or lateral patterns.

To connect to your core try this ...

1. Lie down on your back with your knees bent, ensuring there is no space between the lower back and the floor.

2. Put both hands on your stomach under your belly button.

3. Take a deep breath in and fill your belly with air, it should feel like you are inflating a balloon. You should not be breathing in to the chest but in to the stomach. Do not move on from this step until you see the diaphgram inflate.

4. Next, exhale. When you exhale you should deflate the balloon, pulling your stomach in to the ground, trying to squish your stomach through the floor - you can lightly use your hands to push the stomach down to help you with this sensation. Now you will feel the muscles tense under your fingers. This is your deep core, the transverse abdominus, that thing the pilates instructor has been yelling at you to magically know how to engage. Say hi, you are going to become familair with it.

5. Then repeat the exercise, relax & inhale fill the belly with air, then exhale and draw your stomach in to the ground.

6. Now try the same exercise in a elbow plank. Make a fist with each hand and squeeze the palms together. Inhale and fill the belly with air. As you exhale imagine someone had a fork on the floor pointing up at your stomach and drawing your belly away from the fork through to your spine.

7. Once you have understood this breathing pattern in lying and in a plank progress to standing. Stand and tie a resistance band around your stomach with your feet hip width appart. Inhale, start to lower in to a squat (as if you were sitting down to a chair) and watch the belly expand against the band. Once you reach the bottom of the squat exhale and come up to standing drawing the abdomen in as you come up.

Start to play with lying sitting and standing breath work and bring awareness to the core.

I suggest you make a point to fire up the core using the above breathing technique before you do any exercise. You will be setting yourself up for success and helping provide a stable foundation for the body’s movements.

Still want more support? Contact me via the home page to get expert coaching and watch how you see your body transform and perform.

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