There’s a running joke in the Well+Good office that whenever we start talking about kegel exercises (which oddly happens more than you’d expect), it’s like a switch flips in our brains, and it’s nearly impossible not to start doing them. This is because of the mind-muscle connection, and though we often use this principle to strengthen our pelvic floors, it can also be used to strengthen abs in between workouts.
Trainers are constantly touting the importance of engaging your core during your fitness routine, but doing it throughout the day can ultimately help you get stronger. “Cultivating body awareness is the most important thing you can bring from the studio to real life because the ability to engage your core on an intrinsic, deep level, because it requires a focus on the breath and some knowledge about where you’re initiating from and why,” says Pilates instructor Helen Phelan. This way, when your trainer cues you to fire up your core during a plank or set of squats, you’ll know exactly how to do it and what it’s supposed to feel like.
Aside from helping you during your workouts, this practice—which we like to call “core kegels”—can also improve your overall health and stability. “This is the type of core strength that’s going to be so much more meaningful in your life in terms of longevity, injury prevention, and feeling grounded than building a six-pack,” says Phelan. Trainer Anthony Crouchelli adds that this type of functional core strength is important for helping to avoid injury during daily, functional tasks, like gardening or cleaning your house.
The first step toward proper engagement starts with your breathing. “Breathing deeply helps build body awareness and helps maintain pelvic floor and diaphragm muscle tone,” says Phelan. “The mind-muscle connection plays into this because when we retrain the body to take deep, three dimensional breaths, we’re allowing a full release of the core musculature and training the diaphragm and the pelvic floor to sync together.”
While you’re sitting at your desk during the day, practice taking deep breaths and engaging and releasing your core as you do it (which, bonus, will also help improve your posture and calm your stress levels). Crouchelli also suggests trying regular sit-and-stand patterns, engaging your core and squeezing your glutes every time you rise up from a seated position.
“A regular practice of breathing functionally is going to be so much more beneficial than walking around gripping your abs because having the ability to move through the full range of your muscle contraction, from full release to full engagement, builds a much more functional strength,” says Phelan. That way, the next time your trainer tells you to “engage your abs” during a workout, you’ll already be a pro. Because as they say, practice makes (a) perfect (plank).
Want another way to work your abs? Follow along with the video below:
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