What does it mean to engage your core? How to Engage Your Core

Engaging your core means contracting your trunk muscles to provide support for your spine and pelvis in static positions and during dynamic movements. These muscles are used for balance, lifting, pushing, pulling, and general movement.

Your core provides stability to your trunk for balance and for movements like lifting weights and standing up from a chair. It also provides mobility to allow your torso to move as needed, such as when you reach for your seatbelt or swing a golf club.

A strong core helps improve balance, decrease the risk of injury, and support your spine during forceful movements.

Rectus abdominis

The rectus abdominis, also known as the six-pack muscle, attaches from your lower ribs to the front of your pelvis. The primary movement it performs is flexing your spine, such as when you sit up in bed or perform a crunch.

This muscle is the most superficial of all the core muscles and is therefore not as useful for spinal stability.

Pelvic floor

The pelvic floor muscles are located on the underside of the pelvis and act similarly to a hammock or sling. When engaged, they lift upward toward the stomach.

These muscles start and stop the flow of urine and feces but also act as deep stabilizers of the spine and pelvis.

Transversus abdominis

The transversus abdominis originates from many points, including the back and top of the pelvis and the lower six ribs. Its fibers run horizontally around the body to the linea alba, or midline. It’s the deepest abdominal muscle, and its job is to provide support to the spine.


It’s the primary muscle responsible for breathing in and out, but recent research suggests it also plays an important role in cardiac function, lymphatic return, regulating emotional states, swallowing and vomiting, lumbar stabilization, and pain tolerance


The iliacus and psoas major are two hip flexors that converge into one muscle belly, which is why they’re often called the iliopsoas. They originate from the thoracic and lumbar spine (psoas) and the iliac crest of the pelvis (ilacus) and insert on the femur, or upper leg bone

How to engage your core?

Engaging your core muscles can mean many things, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. For instance, if you’re doing situps, the muscles recruited and the order in which they fire will be different than if you’re trying to hold your balance while standing on one leg.

What’s more, the way your muscles feel when you engage them will differ depending on several factors, such as whether you’re trying to move your spine or stabilize it, whether you’re pushing or pulling weight, and whether you’re standing, sitting, or lying down.

Regardless of how, when, or why you engage your core, it’s important to realize that in movement these muscles all function in harmony with each other. They don’t work in isolation.

For a truly strong and functional core, it’s important to be able to engage your core in any situation and in every way, providing dynamic stability and spinal support for your moving body. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss four primary ways to engage your core.

What does the core do?

Your core has multiple functions, including stabilization, balance, breathing, and bowel and bladder control.

Spinal mobility

While we often think of the core muscles as important stabilizers (because they are!), they’re also the muscles responsible for mobilizing your spine through flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.

Trunk stability

During activities such as lifting something over your head, picking something up from the floor, and pushing or pulling an object, your core muscles contract to keep your trunk stable and support your spine (14Trusted Source).

These muscles are also important in weightlifting and athletic pursuits such as judo, running, and soccer. Keeping your spine stable reduces the risk of injury (12).


Your core muscles aid in maintaining balance when you’re standing still, as well as when your balance is challenged dynamically .

For example, when someone bumps into you, your brain and trunk recognize this abrupt force and change in balance. Your core muscles then react to help keep your body upright.

Your core muscles also support balance in activities like Olympic weightlifting, in which your trunk has to react and stay stable during changes in weight distribution.

Breathing and trunk stability

Your diaphragm is a major muscle in control of breathing. It has an inverted “U” shape and lines your lower ribs.

It flattens as it contracts, allowing room for your lungs to expand when taking in a breath. Conversely, when your diaphragm relaxes, it compresses your lung cavity, forcing air out of your lungs similarly to the way bagpipes work.