What is the Core?
There are many misconceptions as to what the core is and how to get a strong one. The main one is that the core muscles are just your abdominals and that if you do lots of sit-ups you will get one! It’s certainly important to have strong abdominals, but a strong core is much more than just the six pack!
The core is a cylinder of muscles that wrap around your trunk and pelvis.
It consists of:
- The Diaphragm – Our breathing muscle that attaches to the ribs and spine
- The Transverse Abdominis – The deepest abdominal muscle that sits underneath the six pack. It helps to stabilize the spine and pelvis
- Multifidus – A deep muscle running along the spine to support the spinal column
- The Obliques – Muscles in the waist
- The Pelvic Floor – A deep muscle at the base of the pelvis. It attaches to the spine and pubic bones (sit bones)
To develop a strong core, it’s important to learn how to engage these deep stabilizing muscles correctly and effectively and at the same time strengthen other muscle groups such as the glutes, hip flexors, abductors, and adductors.
What are the benefits of having a Strong Core?
A good working core will stabilize your back when you bend forwards to pick something up, when you twist sideways or look upwards. It keeps you upright and in good posture giving you better and more efficient movement. It will keep you more upright in standing, sitting, walking, and running. When we use these muscles, we elongate and get taller, instead of us being contracted or compressed and this also helps us to maintain good balance…something that’s especially important as we get older. They help to elongate and separate the vertebrae and lengthen the body. This is how Pilates gives us the longer leaner look! A strong core and good posture go hand in hand. Having correct alignment and posture helps to engage the core muscles and get them working correctly.
It can also help to reduce back and joint pain. When we experience back pain in particular, our core muscles switch off and we can be left without support. Pilates can help retrain the core muscles to work and engage when they should. By making a conscious effort to switch them on and build endurance in them we can get them working to support us.
A well-functioning core will also help with all physical activities and sports and lead to safer work-outs. If recovering from injury practicing Pilates will certainly help. We need to train the core muscles to switch on and engage at the right time to support and stabilize the spine in different positions and during different movements and it is this that will protect the spine from injury.
If the core is dysfunctional and not engaging correctly this can lead to injury as some activities such as gym work when we load the body with weights can put pressure on the spine. Therefore, we need to learn to connect the upper and lower body through these deep stabilizing muscles to stop unnecessary rotation or instability of the low back and pelvis.
Finally, and very important of course… a stronger core will give us a slimmer waist and flatter abdominals!
We all need a strong and efficient core to protect our spine and pelvis. The most important work we can do for the body is to learn how to unconsciously engage our deep stabilising muscles and find neutral alignment which is best done through imagery and effective cueing, alongside efficient breathing and correct posture and alignment.
Pilates teaches you to engage the right muscles, in the right way and at the right time!