What Does "Activating Your Core" Actually Mean? An Expert Explains

Has this ever happened to you: you're on the couch polishing off a block of Lindt 70% Cocoa chocolate as the credits roll on the final episode of Mad Men's seventh and final season (this is your second rewatch in as many years) and you realise the last time you properly exercised was during the program's initial broadcast. The soothing yet firm voice of your pilates instructor echoes in your mind: "Make sure you really activate your core this time people!" You realise it's time to stand up and start paying more attention to your body—to tone up, yes, but more importantly to start living a more well-rounded existence. 

OK, but what is the core exactly? And what does it mean to "activate" it? Basically, the core is the torso, and saying your core is "activated" simply means it's in use. So when your torso—and the muscles inside it—are being used in any way, that means you are activating your core. The importance of working on core strength boils down to two factors: 1) we use our core muscles daily, so having a strong core makes our everyday performance of even basic tasks that much better and easier; and 2) a weakened core can lead to injuries. 

Someone who understands the importance of core strength on a deep level is Jacqui Kingswell, former professional dancer and founder of The Pilates Class. After nine years touring with the likes of Beyoncé, One Direction and Ricky Martin, Jacqui decided to leave the stage and focus on the studio full time and she hasn't looked back. At The Pilates Class she shares the fruits of her unique education in dance and pilates, emphasising that activating the core is the most vital, complex and technical process at the heart of all forms of physical exercise.

Hi Jacqui! Apart from improving core strength, what are the benefits of pilates? What makes it such a popular form of exercise?

There are so many incredible benefits of pilates. It releases stress and tension, both from the body and the mind. It teaches you control, precision and balance, and it increases strength, flexibility, posture and overall awareness of the mind and body. Once you feel the physical change that pilates brings to your body it's hard to go back. It is one of the most transformative practices that you can do, and it helps you to create sustainable and lasting change.

If you've ever been to a physiotherapist or doctor with an injury, they will always tell you to start practicing pilates when you're ready for recovery. It's such a safe and beautiful practice that you can do for the rest of your life. It will change your relationship with your body and mind. Anyone who does pilates will tell you the same thing.

What is the core exactly? 

It's the essence of everything! The core is the main focus in all our classes—even if you're taking a 20 minute booty burn classes, you're still working the core!

Would you say pilates is one of the best core-strengthening forms of exercise?

It really is, because it teaches you to engage your pelvic floor, transverse and abdominal muscles, and it focusses on engaging the core with every breath. After a while, activating your core just becomes second nature and you start doing it during classes without having to think about it.

What are some ways people can activate their core in their everyday life?

I like to practice activating my core throughout the entire day. I give the members corrections and cues throughout the classes so they feel as if I'm in the room with them—when they're sitting at a desk, standing in line or going for a walk I want them to hear my voice correcting their posture and core engagement. It's not something that you just do to get the "perfect body", the real focus is on the connection between the mind and body, learning your habits and functionalities, and learning to listen and love your body.

What advice do you have for everyone working out at home, maybe for the first time due to COVID-related gym/studio closures?

My advice is to keep it up. I think now more than ever it's important to set aside time for your body and your mind. Even if you take 10-30 mins a day, it's important to set aside time to enjoy moving your body as well as switch off your mind.

Follow Jacqui at @jacquikingswell and @ThePilatesClass. Find out more about Jacqui's program at The Pilates Class.

Enjoyed this? Here are the 4 most common at-home workout mistakes to avoid, according to an expert.

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