When I talk about core, I talk about a leotard of strength.

It’s been a good few years since I last put on a leotard, although as a teenager I’m pretty sure I had many, in a range of neon shades. Hopefully you can remember or imagine the feeling of lycra keeping you tucked-in across the trunk.

My leotard of strength is a high-necked, low-leg, modest leotard: it’s definitely not showing any cleavage or riding up my bum.

Everything underneath the leotard is a core muscle.

Sometimes we need to engage our core muscles deliberately. For instance, if you’re going to lift a heavy thing, or doing a ‘core exercise’. So how do you do it?

  1. Squeeze your butt. Contract your glutes. Engage those buns of steel. This might tuck your pelvis under your ribs a little bit, but try not to let your hips thrust forward. Think tall instead of thrusty. Perhaps this will also make you feel your pelvic floor muscles – which is fine, as long as you can relax them afterwards.
  2. Drop your ribs. Ask the bottom rib at the front to gently slide down towards the top of your pelvis. I don’t want you to look like a cashew nut, but your lumbar spine will straighten out a little bit as you do this.
  3. Roll your shoulders back and down. It might help to visualise your shoulder blades sliding down your back, towards the back pocket of your jeans; or actively pulling your shoulders away from your ears. Stress makes us wear our shoulders like earrings. Try to let that go. This engages your lats, the big stability muscles that sit on the back of your ribcage.
  4. Exhale. There’s no point in trying to feel your leotard tightening if you are expanding your core at the same time by inhaling.

Do you feel it? Does it feel like a leotard pulling on your torso?

In short:

  • breathe out
  • squeeze your bum
  • drop your ribs
  • pull your shoulders away from your ears.
  • When you breathe in, relaaaax.

(If you’re more of a visual learner, there’s a video at the bottom of the page where I explain it.)

When should you ‘wear’ your leotard?

Answer: when you need to. That’s not all the time.

The important phrase here is “tension to task”. If you are picking up a cushion, do you need your leotard of strength? No, you don’t. Nor do you need it for a run or getting a tin out of a cupboard. For those tasks, you need your core muscles to function as a reflex: that is, thoughtlessly, without your brain’s involvement.

But if you’re holding a plank, doing a set of mountain climbers, performing a heavy deadlift or squat, you’ll need your leotard.

We only need to create enough tension in the core to complete the task at hand.

If we over-recruit any muscles, they end up sore, unresponsive, unable to relax. That’s just as dysfunctional as having muscles don’t work.

So off you go, and make sure you wear the right, leotard the right occasion.

Elspeth Alexandra - Women's Health Coach in Edinburgh

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