Core Strength – How to Activate Your Inner Core Muscles and Coordinate with Breathing

Do you want to learn how to have a stronger core? It is important to learn the difference between the deep, or inner core, and the more superficial outer core muscles. Watch this video to find out how to coordinate breathing with activation of your transverse abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, to activate your inner core.

The inner core is responsible for stabilizing the spine and creating a sold base for movement, allowing your outer core muscles to work more effectively. This helps you create more power and transfer loads more easily for your sport, work, or other activity.

It is important to learn to activate you inner core. This helps you stabilize before you use your bigger muscles. Retraining this pattern of movement is often the key to better movement and athletic performance, as well as less pain.

Hi this is Dana Ranahan from Body Works Sports Physiotherapy. Today I want to talk to you about core strength, how the core works, and how we look at the different layers of the core.

The inner core works to stabilize and maintain a neutral spine. Ultimately this gives us a strong base to work from. The bigger muscles are the outer core and they generate more power for us when we’re running, doing sports, or any other kind of athletic endeavour. So effectively we want to talk about how to activate our inner core.

Muscles of the Inner Core

  • The inner core is the deepest layer – kind of like a donut around the spine.
  • On top we have the diaphragm, which is like an umbrella at the top of the rib cage.
  • Then we have a muscle across the top that runs horizontally, called transversus abdominous.
  • We have muscles in the bottom of the pelvis, called the pelvic floor muscles, that form the floor of the deep core.
  • We also have some deep muscles around the back called multifidus.

When we want to try to get your core working, we want to get the deep core working first because it’s important to stabilize first.


In this position you can take a look and see that our model has some tightness through her rib cage. She’s also a little bit braced through her diaphragm area.

So the first thing I want to get her working on is some breathing. Before I do that, I’m going to set her position.

  • Bring the knees up towards your chest so that the hips, knees, and feet stay in line with the hip. Don’t let the knees fall open at all.
  • In this position, take a nice deep breath. Because the diaphragm is the roof of the core, we need it to work together with the abdominal muscles to help get that deep stability.
  • Take a nice deep breath, trying to get expansion without too much lift.
  • Try to get more lateral expansion by breathing in towards the back or towards the spine.
  • As you breath out, let the rib cage soften, and do a little bit of lift through the pelvic floor area.

When we try to get the deep abdominal muscle, it’s really important that we don’t overshoot it. If you’re pulling in the muscles in your abdominal area, tighten up really strongly. Often you’ll feel it kind of pop up where you can see the muscles right there popping up. Those are the more superficial muscles.


When we want to get the deep system kicking in, often if we try to use an abdominal queue, we pull in really tight through our abdominals and end up holding our breath. When we do that, we don’t get the deep system kicking in. This is why it’s important to do some more subtle contraction like a kegel exercise, which is almost imagining you’re stopping the flow of urine. Or a little bit of an internal lift.

Sometimes we use a visualization where you think about drawing of your belly button towards your spine. Or there are various other queues that we can work to try to find this deep contraction. When the deep contraction happens, it’ll feel like a little in-drawing, almost like your belly button is suddenly pulling in towards your spine. But not this big popping up contraction with the big muscles.

Coordinate with your breathing

  • Take a deep breath like we started working on, then as you’re breathing out, soften through the rib cage.
  • As you start to soften, think about that little lift through your pelvic floor. Just not too heavy, so go something more subtle.
  • Working on coordinating breathing, breathe in. As you breath out, soften your diaphragm and think about a little bit of lift through the pelvic floor.

The most basic thing we can do to get that deep system working without the big muscles taking over, is to work on breathing pattern. And trying to activate that deep abdominal muscle through our pelvic floor muscles first. Then we work adding movement to it, which is in some of our upcoming videos.

If you have back pain, or other issues around your hips and back area, often the core is a strong component to recovery and getting better. If you have any other questions give us a call and see how we can help.