The Importance of Core Activation in Your Workout

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core activation

In all of my years in practice I have noticed the same common mistake performed by athletes of all caliber. Whether they are a skilled athlete with a set routine or a weekend warrior, they typically seem to overlook the importance of core activation.

This is especially important when using resistive equipment of any kind, including machines, resistive bands and/or weights. If the core is not activated when using resistance, the lumbar musculature will kick in on overload, causing a muscle imbalance.

This is often how back pain begins. A few simple steps can prevent lumbar pain when strengthening:

  • Fix your posture, no matter what your position. This can be while lying down, on your side, sitting or standing. You want to strengthen with a straight spine.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles. It does not matter what muscle group you want to strengthen. The core must be engaged.
  • Introduce breath control with core activation. Inhale through your nostrils and let your diaphragm fill up with air to start. Then give a slow exhale through your lips while squeezing your abdominal muscles. Diaphragmatic breathing will improve your abdominal muscle control and also will increase your muscle contraction when using resistive equipment.
  • Tie in core activation with resistive movement. For example, when sitting at the tricep strengthening machine and after you have set your resistance level, make sure your back is straight against the seat. Start with a deep inhale, filling your diaphragm. As you start to exhale, slowly begin your tricep extension as you tighten your abdominal musculature. This will give you more power and control when extending your arm. You may even notice you can bump the resistance up, thanks to the help from your core.

Breath and core control take conscious thought initially, but over time can become a functioning motor plan and require much less thought. A simple cue to give yourself when strengthening is to pretend to smell a birthday cake, and then blow out the candles.

Introducing these simple steps into your strengthening routine can help to increase resistance tolerance, prevent back pain and burn more calories by activating more muscle groups all at once. Remember to breathe, and activate your core with all exercises! Happy strengthening!

Lauren Napoli, PTA, is a physical therapy assistant at UH Parma Medical Center.

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University Hospitals Sports Medicine takes a multidisciplinary approach that integrates care from medical experts who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment for athletes of all ages and abilities. Our fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists, primary care doctors, nutritionists, sleep experts and other health care professionals ensure the very best in health and medical care for athletes. Learn more about sports medicine at University Hospitals.

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