What Does It Really Mean To Engage Your Core?

If you've ever taken a yoga or Pilates class, the instructor almost certainly guided you through a number of exercises or held positions that they said were designed to engage your core. Those exercises probably made your abdominal muscles feel like they were on fire but engaging your core goes far beyond simply building up abdominal strength.

When you engage your core, you are also activating your lower back, abdominal muscles, buttocks, hips, and pelvic area (via SELF). Fitness experts say that activating your core is important is because your core is the root of your strength and stability. Your core helps support other areas of your body such as your arms and legs when engaging in physical activity. A strong core also helps support posture, protect against rotations, and improve balance, per SELF.

Your core is also known as your "powerhouse." This term was conceived by the father of the Pilates method, Joseph Pilates, who brought his body conditioning method — originally known as Contrology — officially onto the scene in the 1920s when he established a studio in the United States (via Pilates Union). 

Best ways to build your core

The Pilates method provides a wide variety of exercises that you can use to build your core strength. While these exercises are meant to be challenging, you shouldn't feel intimidated. Even if you are someone who needs to get into shape if you don't really exercise, there are plenty of introductory options to help build up your core.

For instance, the experts at Healthline suggest a variety of beginner exercises that can be done simply or modified if you want more of a challenge. One example is leg lifts, which work your innermost abdominal muscles and back. To do this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor in line with your hips. Inhale deeply into your ribs. As you exhale, raise one leg in a bent, reverse tabletop position. On your next exhale, raise your other leg. Hold both legs in this position for five counts and then return both feet to the floor. Repeat this set five times and note how your core feels compared to before you started this exercise.

A Pilates exercise for your core that also includes your arms is the "Bird Dog." Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position with a neutral spine. As you exhale, stretch out one arm along with the opposite leg. Hold for three slow counts and then return to your original position on the inhale. Do the same process on the other side. Repeat this full sequence 10 times (via Healthline). Doing Pilates exercises regularly will not only build your core but will likely enhance your overall health, sense of well-being, and, ultimately, your quality of life.