Activate your Core, Get a Six Pack

July 17, 2012, 2:30 pm Alexa Connors

Draw your belly button into your spine! We hear it constantly, but what does it actually mean? Strengthening or activating the core is a popular topic, but why do we need to do it and can it actually help your running, strength training and overall wellbeing? Alexa Connors from Bondi BUF gets to the core of the issue.

Activate your Core, Get a Six Pack

Photo: Zoran Milich / Getty

The answer is YES!

Core activation can without doubt improve running speed, training performance and prevent injury – because it's the foundation of all movement in the body. Just like a tree that's been hollowed out by termites, without a solid core you'll never have true, functional strength.

Essentially, the ‘core’ makes up all of the muscles that are situated between the base of the ribcage and the pelvis. The 4 components of the core consist of the TVA (transverse abdominal muscles), internal and external obliques, spinal erectors (along your back) and rectus abdominus (your six pack).

Not sure where we're talking about? First, try these exercises to help you find your core stabilisers and switch them on:

1. Lying hip abduction
This one is designed to enhance hip stability. Lie on your side with your knees together and bent at 90 degrees. Now rotate the upper leg upward and back (like a clam shell) keeping the top and bottom feet in contact with each other. Repeat this 10-15 times before changing sides.

Related: The best core exercises for runners

2. Kneeling overhead suck in
This is to teach you how to contract your deeper abs for stabilising. Kneeling on both knees evenly, lift your arms overhead so that they are in line with your ears. Draw your belly button into your spine and try to reach your finger tips closer to the ceiling as though you're almost about to touch it. Hold for at least 5 seconds before relaxing. Repeat this exercise 5 times.

Now, what happens if you don't activate your core?

If you’re not using your core correctly (or at all) when you workout, the larger muscle groups take over to finish the task at hand. This is definitely not good because you start to create imbalances in your body and your back can take the brunt of this. If you have athletic goals, this also means you're not being very efficient and you'll tire out much more quickly. To get the best results out of any type of exercise, correct core activation is needed.


Photo: Keith Wright / Getty

These activities will help you use your core more effectively:

1. Body Weight Exercises
Although they don't directly target core muscles, bodyweight exercises are among the best core builders because they require core stabilisation against your body's entire weight. Include these 4 basic body weight exercises as part of your workout to strengthen your core muscles:

  • Bridge (lie on your back with legs bent and feet on the floor, raise your hips off the floor and back down)
  • Abdominal crunch or sit up
  • Plank
  • Superman

2. Running
High levels of core strength are known to improve running speed and reduce the likelihood of sports related injuries (or injuries linked to having bad posture). The reason this is so important is that most of us are unable to functionally activate our stabilizing muscles during running, and this problem reduces our efficiency of movement and contributes to overuse injuries.

Practice tensing and releasing the core muscles while running, as your arms move backwards and forward with momentum, notice the side of your waist brace – continue to breathe normally but keep your abs contracted for as long as possible.

3. Strength Training
Strength training is a great way to condition the core. Similar to body weight exercises, strength training is fundamental to prevent injury, improve strength, power, speed and endurance. Rather than sticking to traditional weights machines though, try to include some cable machines, BOSU balls, TRX and swiss balls into your workout so you can load the muscles while balancing and stabilising using your core.

There are two key advanced exercises to build stability and coordination. Find out what they are at the Bondi BUF website.

The strongest abs in the world are useless if you can't activate them functionally! So many people overlook the core as part of their exercise regime when in fact your core should be the core of your routine! Pun intended.

Bondi BUF was founded by Libby Babet and is a collaboration of some of Bondi Beach's top health and fitness trainers, coaches and consultants. Read more from Libby and her team at, or get in touch for a few sessions at Bottoms Up! Fitness or AGOGA.





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