'Activate your core!' 'Feel it in your core!' 'This should be working your core!'
How many times do you hear that word when you work out? Probably lots.
And how often do you actually know what the instructor is talking about? Not so much? But still you suck in a bit and hope that'll suffice.
A lot of emphasis is put on the importance of a strong core, not just when striving for a flat stomach or fledgling signs of a six-pack, but in all areas of fitness: providing stability, strength and helping to prevent injury.
According to Lilly Sabri, a Chartered Physiotherapist, founder of Lean With Lilly and Optimum Nutrition's newest ambassador – who previously worked at Chelsea football club with team doctor Eva Carneiro, and still works with footballers and their wives – a lot of clients mistakenly think their core is around the upper stomach area.
'There are misconceptions of people thinking that the "core" muscles are solely the outer abdominal muscles. Often when I ask my patients where they think their core is, they will point to their upper or middle abdominal muscles - the six pack area.'
But it turns out the core goes a lot deeper than this.
'Technically, yes the abdominal muscles are part of the core, however they are part of a network of muscles located around the lower spine, pelvis and hips forming what is known by health and fitness professionals as a muscular "corset".'
Which means the bad news is, even if you have a visible six-pack – which is a great measure for training and nutrition plan progress - you could still have a weak core.
'The rectus abdominus muscles (the outer abdominal muscles that form a six pack) are the most visible of all the core muscles, therefore the most measurable in terms of progression. However, the deep core muscles (transversus abdominus) are less visible,' explains Lilly.
So how do you know where to find your 'deep core'?
'The deep core muscles are 4 layers deep and are located next to the pelvic floor muscles. They are the most important, but equally often most neglected of the core muscles.'
When ELLE Fit worked out with Lily she showed us how to locate our deep core, and it was revelatory to even the fittest, most flat-stomached of the group.
HOW TO LOCATE YOU DEEP CORE
According to Lilly, the easiest way to describe how to locate your deep core muscles is by following the ten steps below:-
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent
2. Place your feet shoulder distance apart
3. Create a diamond shape with your hands, placing your thumbs together resting on your belly button and your fingertips touching resting on your pubic bones (your hands should be flat on your pelvis and lower stomach
4. Pretend you have a small plate of water resting on your hands and you are trying to slowly and controlled, tilt the plate backwards and forwards to spill the water in each direction by moving the pelvis back and forth
5. The best way to visualise this is to close your eyes and feel if your lower back is touching the floor, or if it is arched away from the floor (everyone's body is different). With your eyes closed take a deep breath in as you slowly and controlled flatten your back into the floor by tilting the pelvis and tucking the tailbone under.
6. On the breath out, reserve the movement to arch the lower back as far away from the floor as possible. Repeat this movement approx. 6-8 times in each direction. Take a moment to check that your knees and legs are staying still, with the knees facing up towards the sky.
7. Once you have completed these pelvic tilts, find the point in the centre where your imaginary plate of water is balanced.
8. To locate the core place your 1st and 2nd finger on each hand onto your hip bones, these are the 'bony parts' towards the front of your pelvis. From here move both sets of fingertips in by one inch and then down one inch into your knicker or brief line.
9. To feel the inner core muscles, have a little cough, and you should feel the deep core muscles contract underneath your fingertips. These are your real deep core muscles and they are active when you cough, when you sneeze and when you laugh.
10. To activate the core muscles I tend to use the visualisation of trying to fasten the button on a low pair of skinny jeans that are a size to small. Keeping your fingers in the same place, take a deep breath in and on the breath out try to activate the core by feeling the deep core muscles contract underneath the fingertips.
There are misconceptions of people thinking that the "core" muscles are solely the outer abdominal muscles
If you still can't locate your core, then you probably don't have one.
Lilly explains that it can take months to master the correct core activation depending on circumstances and your baseline core strength.
'Don't worry if you can't feel activate the inner core muscles straight away. This core activation exercise can be completed in any position. Take your time and try to consciously think about activating your deep core as often as possible, from every task such as walking to work to working out in the gym'.
So when you're told to activate your core in your next HIIT session you might be better equipped to finding it in the first place.
Plus, it's good to know that, when it comes to the core, it's not all about the 6-pack.
Learn how to activate your core correctly on 'Correct Core Activation' video on the Lilly Sabri YouTube channel. Lilly is the ambassador for Optimum Nutrition's Opti-Lean range, designed to enhance weight-loss results through exercise and a balanced diet. (www.onacademy.co.uk)