If you have been to an aerial class you have probably heard your teacher constantly going on about using your core… ‘engage your core’ or ‘you must build core strength’… Yep I go on about it ALL the time but we do that because, well, it’s actually a very fundamental part of where our aerial strength comes from. And lets face it, the stronger we are the more graceful we are going to look (think snowflakes and angels here rather than hefalumps or hippopotamus’s).

So what exactly is this mysterious thing called core…?

Probably the first thing that springs to mind is a a rippling six-pack like the guy above (yeah I know sorry, I couldn’t resist). Although many people with rippling six packs and wash board stomachs do have a strong core, it’s not one and the same, and core training is not just a fancy way of saying toning your abs.

Your core is your body’s powerhouse

Not only does it facilitate movement, but it also houses your inner organs and central nervous system. In other words, it helps you do just about everything. The difference between core and ab training is that you’re not just targeting the front side of the body but the back side as well, in fact a good core workout should include all muscles between your knees and shoulders. Your core muscles include: the upper abs (abdominals), the side muscles (obliques), the muscles that make up your back (erector spinae), your bum (glutes) and then a very deep layer of muscle – the ones that do all the good stuff, like connect to your spinal cord and help your body support your spine.

So are ab crunches useless?

Ab crunches are really important, because before you can engage your deeper core, you need at least some strength first in your abdominal muscles. Doing crunches is a great way for somebody to work towards getting a stronger core. Once you’ve developed some initial core stability, you can start working on the deeper core muscles to build strength. It’s really about working from the inside out. Just because you’re strong, it doesn’t mean you have a strong core. It’s really something everyone can work on.

Why is engaging my centre or core so important?

So what’s the big deal about the core, why all the hype about it and why is it so important to aerialists? The answer is freedom. Freedom in the arms and legs, the spine, and torso is created when you have control of the space where all of these extremities attach – the centre of the body. Even though it’s easy to presume that when we’re moving, our extremities do most of the work, the opposite is true – most movement starts at the centre and moves outward.

Five benefits of having a strong core

1. Injury prevention: When you’ve got a strong core, everything else will fit into place, meaning your overall fitness will improve and making you less prone to injury. A rock-solid centre will help ensure that your movements are strong and pain-free.

2. Protecting your inner organs and central nervous system: Your core is not only where your organs and central nervous system do their busy-work, it’s also where your body’s largest (and most important) veins and arteries are based. Keeping strong core muscles will help ensure everything stays protected as you move through your day. Your spinal cord is everything, but if you have pressure on it because it isn’t well supported by your core muscles, then it is going to affect your movements. It will eventually cause pain, and that my friend is not what we want at all.

3. Banish back pain: This is a common side effect of a weak core. When our abdominals are weak, it’s often because our back muscles are overly strong. Building core strength will help bring balance to the front and back of your body. Sitting at a desk all day doesn’t help. Not being mindful of how we’re sitting, and not engaging our core, can lead to things like compressed discs in our spine. People make the mistake of sitting for long periods with a tilted pelvis and an arched back, rather than sitting tall on their sit bones (think about the boney part of your bum pointing straight down). Sitting on a stability ball rather than a traditional chair, can help because the sense of instability and the movement it creates forces your abdomen to stay engaged.

4. Get a strong, confident posture: If your core is strong, you’ll be hard pressed not to carry yourself with confidence. A tall, upright posture exudes strength and gives the impression that this person is in control of their life. A slumped posture, on the other hand, looks weak and defeated. And the same is true for aerial – no one wants to see you heaving yourself around the equipment like a hefalump. The stronger your core the more effortless your movements will be and the more you will look like a graceful butterfly (aaaaahhhh).

5. Look and feel great in that bikini! Always a huge plus right – everyone wants to look great in a bikini, but not just to turn heads at the beach – a strong healthy body means you’ll feel great too.

Start engaging your core right now!…

Here’s a core engagement exercise you can do right now, and in fact at anytime. Pull the belly button in toward the spine and hold. Continuing breathing while holding. Or even better use the image of ‘lacing up’ the abdominals – go ahead, try it now… Really imagine it, use your minds eye to feel the laces crossed over your torso and slowly cinch them inward (not too tight, you should be able to breathe), bringing the abdomen and organs closer to your spine which runs down the centre of your body. It may take some practice but eventually this activation of the muscles can become second nature. Practice this in all your daily activities and your core will get stronger.

Remember to breathe properly…

You may not think how you breathe has an impact on your core, but it makes a big difference. Most people shoulder breathe by elevating their shoulders and lifting their rib cages to let air in. This means the diaphragm can’t do its job effectively. It also limits the function of the inner core – the muscles affected most powerfully by breath. You should breathe air into the lowest point of your belly. Breathe this way when lifting, walking, sitting, reading, and talking. Seriously, it’s important!

So I’m hoping you’ve gained a clearer understanding of what’s meant by core strength. Did you enjoy this blog? If so please like, share and feel free to leave any comments below.