I hear the phrase engage your core all the time, and honestly, I've never really understood what people saying it are trying to get me to do, and the answers to the question How to 'engage your core'? don't communicate enough detail for me.
Nathan Wheeler's answer describes stability and smooth motion as the goals, but I can achieve both stability and smooth motion without doing anything that feels like I'm using or "engaging" my core. So I'm still left with questions.
For a long time I've interpreted it to mean contract your abs or suck in your stomach, but these don't feel right to me.
Contract your abs. When I simply contract my abs, it tends to pull my body into a slight arc, with my chest dropping, my shoulders coming forward, and my back rolling ever so slightly. My intuition tells me this is not an athletic posture because it makes it more difficult to move with control and agility.
Suck in your stomach. When I try sucking in my stomach, it has a tendency to inhibit my ability to breathe freely and deeply. My intuition says this isn't right either.
So what does it really mean to engage your core? An article about engaging your core from a yoga perspective suggests that it's really about posture.
When all the muscles of the trunk work together harmoniously, we have good posture while static (meditating) or moving (everyday activities as well as asana practice).
From this I came up with my own interpretation: to maintain good posture in an exercise, keeping a long torso with the lower abs and lower back slightly taut—you might even say engaged ;). In more detail, to me this means:
- Keeping the chin raised and gaze high, rolling the shoulders back slightly, and lifting your chest.
- Further elongating your torso and pulling in your lower abs slightly, but opposing that by also activating your lower back muscles for stability.
To me this is all about elongating your torso, keeping it stable, and being contracted enough to take a light punch to the abs. (Not because taking a punch is particularly important, but because that helps me think about which muscles I should be activating.)
What still bothers me about my latest interpretation is that the particular sequence of words "engage your core" fails to imply anything about posture.
So, do I have it right? Is engaging your core really about posture?