What exactly is this core we hear so much about? It’s a bit like a house. It has a foundation, walls at the sides and front/back, there are support beams in the middle and a roof on top. Your “core” is made up of several different muscles in your abdominals and back. Here’s a little bit more about each one:
DIAPHRAGM – This is really important in breathing. As it contracts and flattens it creates a negative pressure in the chest which sucks in air. Your diaphragm forms part of your core, it is the lid. You’ll note during class that I try and ask you to breathe into your belly – nice big breaths, to help your diaphragm expand and contract properly and work in synergy with your core and as you breathe out and bear down you should feel the other muscles of the core.
TRANSVERSUS ABDOMINIS – It’s a very deep, internal muscle that wraps around the body, roughly from one hip bone to the other. The muscle fibres of this muscle run “transversally” or horizontally across your lower abdomen, and this is your support beam and the front of your house, I guess. your brain will send messages to this muscle to activate when I say ‘brace you abdomen’, ’draw your navel to your spine’ or switch on your core.
MULTIFIDUS – This is the back of your house and your fundamental back support muscle. Few Pilates-based exercises work this muscle in isolation, it’s kind of always switched on, buzzing away in the background, helping support your back, when your core is active. If you place a hand on your tummy, and a hand on your back close to your spine, draw your core muscles inwards to maximum connection, and you may feel the back muscles tighten behind you too.
PELVIC FLOOR – The pelvic floor or pelvic diaphragm is your house’s foundations. If a house doesn’t have a strong foundation, all sorts of problems occur, and this is true also about the pelvic floor in us too. The stronger your foundation, the better your function. You’ll be pleased to know though, that Pilates works your pelvic floor, without you even realising it. Whenever you ignite your transverses abdominis muscle (your core), your pelvic floor gets a workout too, because of the pelvic floor and the core muscles “co-contract”. What this means is, if you activate your pelvic floor, your core is working, and if you contract your core, the pelvic floor is also switched on.
There are several different terms to describe the “core” eg your centre, your powerhouse, your corset muscle. As instructors, we use different visualisations to help you engage the muscle.
When you start to exercise it is important to get the basics right. If you really can’t find your core please let me know. It’s difficult to start with as it may well be very weak. It is important that we door best to get you feeling something. Start with the basics in terms of exercise and technique, before you start loading the core before it’s ready.
If you do too much of an advanced move when your core isn’t ready for it, chances are something in your house structure will suffer like the walls or the foundations, and anatomically, what will happen is, another muscle will switch on in order to cope. The body is very good at doing this but if other muscles are doing ‘someone’ else job it can’t do what it should be doing. So I urge you not to try and ‘run before you can walk’ take the low levels of the exercises when you first start.
Don’t compete with the person next to you in a Pilates class, judge yourself individually and your core strength too and only compete with yourself. Not all houses are the same on the inside – they all have creaky doors and floorboards etc and this is what makes them unique.
Work your core the way it was meant to, and you’ll have strong foundations, four walls, a support beam and a roof all working in perfect harmony, making it more of a home than a house!