You’ve probably been told to engage your core. Lower back pain? Engage your core. Sloppy posture? Engage your core. Need to do your taxes? Well, this won’t help with that, but you should probably engage your core while you do them!

While it seems like a simple solution, it’s a little ambiguous. What does “engage your core” even mean?

Many people think that the core is simply your abdominals—that a rippling six pack means that you have a strong core. And while your abs are certainly a part of your core, they are only one piece of a much larger system.

The core is actually made up of a variety of muscles in and around your torso. Extremely connected, the core muscles are vital in providing stability and control to the pelvis and spine. Having a strong core doesn’t necessarily mean it’s chiselled and powerful, but that it supports your body in correct postures, removing stress from your joints and allowing you to move effectively.

The muscles that make up your core include the Rectus Abdominus (your abs), External and Internal Obliques, the Diaphragm, the Transverse Abdominis, the Serratus Anterior, the Pelvic Floor, the Latissiumus Dorsi (Lats) and the Erector Spinae.

Each of these muscle areas is crucial in supporting your body whether you are static or in motion. A weak core can lead to a lot of problems as we age. Bones and cartilage will wear over time; you may feel pain in the neck, back, knees and hips as well.

There are a couple of ways that you can effectively activate your core muscles throughout the day.

The first is to brace your abdominals, which will engage other muscles in your core as well. To do this correctly, sit or stand up straight and feel as though your abdominal muscles are being pulled up from the front of your pelvis, and then push them out while retaining some tension.

Another way to understand this feeling is to laugh or cough. Before each of these actions, your core muscles will effectively engage to prepare for the expulsion of air.

By effectively engaging your core throughout daily activities, you will alleviate unnecessary strain on your body and improve your overall mobility. The next time you’re told to engage your core, you’ll understand exactly how to do that and what the benefits might be.