Core engagement is an exceptionally important part of recovering from back pain. Without learning how to properly engage your core, rehabilitation is not going to be useful for preventing back pain reoccurrences later on. If you’re a member in our free to access Back In Shape membership area, you may be familiar with this exercise as it’s the very first one that we teach. Engaging the core essentially helps the protective muscles that surround your spine and midsection to tighten and secure your spine, similar to the way in which a corset tightens around that area.

How To Perform The Vacuum Exercise

The vacuum exercise teaches you how to engage your core alongside your breath. Once you start to work the engagement more often, you’ll be able to perform it separate from any breathwork and should be able to hold it for long periods of time. This exercise is one that should be performed with any kind of stretches that you do, strengthening exercises, as well as when performing daily activities that might otherwise put a bit of strain through your back – such as bending, twisting or lifting. To perform the exercise, stand or sit up straight, or lie on your back. Take a deep breath in, followed by a deep breath out. On the breath out, draw your belly button towards the spine as much as you can. There are certain circumstances where you might not feel this contraction working in your body, so if this is the case you can also try a slightly different way to understand when your core is working. If this is you, take a deep breath in, followed by another deep breath out. When you’ve breathed out enough so that you don’t have any more left to give, try to perform a very quick blow of air out of your lungs, like you would be blowing out candles. When your diaphragm can now longer expel air, the core muscles jump in to help, so you may find you feel the core muscles working then. Practice engaging and letting go again for multiple repetitions, a few times a day. This is a very easy exercise to practice as you go about your daily business, for example you can try when waiting for the kettle to boil, while you’re at your desk or while cooking etc. You’ll very soon get the hang of the movement!

What You Should Avoid Doing When Engaging Your Core

Very often, a pelvic tilt exercise can be recommended in order to engage the core muscles. However, this would not be helpful if you do have back pain as it can create more problems than it solves. A pelvic tilt is essentially where you round off the lower back and tuck your bottom under.

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It can be performed as an aid to performing many different abdominal exercises, such as leg raises, but with the pressure these put on the lower back we would not recommend this as an exercise to do if you have back pain. Logically speaking, pelvic tucks help you to avoid overextending, but if you’re doing an exercise like a deadbug where a practitioner might recommend performing a pelvic tuck alongside, we would recommend instead that you engage the core with the vacuum exercise and only extend your leg down as far as you can without overextending, and build on this gradually as the base of your core strength.

Should You Only Learn To Engage Your Core If You Have Back Pain?

Definitely not! Learning to engage and disengage your core is so important, whether you have back pain or you simply just enjoy working out at the gym, or you want to maintain good spinal health in the future. Very often, you may lose your core strength due to prolonged periods of time slouching, being inactive, or crucially after having surgeries involving cutting through core muscles – appendectomies or C-sections for example. In the case of C-Sections, the mother’s recovery so often falls by the wayside because the focus at this point is on the new baby. However, core stability is so important to regain after giving birth, so you need to make sure that you’re following a proper rehabilitation program. Whether you’ve got back pain or not, try out the core vacuum exercise and see whether you can do it. Start incorporating it into your everyday life through the methods we mentioned earlier as well to maintain your back health.

We hope you’ve enjoyed today’s article on how to correctly engage your core. If you have any questions at all about this topic, please do get in touch with us either through email at, through our social channels or by tuning in to our live streams every weekday on our Facebook and YouTube channels. If you’d like a more in-depth look at what exercises we recommend when you have back pain, including how to perform the core vacuum exercise, sign up to our membership area for free at!

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