Pilates is a movement system in which all exercises are initiated from the body’s core. As the body begins to balance its muscles uniformly, efficient movement patterns develop and the spine begins to move with ease. There are few training methods that target the deep abdominal muscles, deep postural muscles and pelvic girdle region as specifically as Pilates does. A regular Pilates core training increases mobility and the feeling of strength from the centre of the body. Joints can work from their intended position and muscles have sufficient length to reach their full potential.
So what exactly is the ‘core’? Think of the core and its function as a means of correctly transferring forces throughout the body and stabilising ourselves as we use our arms and legs.
True core strength is the connection between our upper and lower body to make our movements strong and controlled.
The core is essentially the area between your shoulders and your pelvis without the arms and legs. It incorporates all the muscles within this area which are involved in the stabilisation of the trunk, spine and pelvis.
The intrinsic core muscles are:
• Transverse abdominal muscle (blue)
• Obliques and anterior abdominal muscles (blue)
• Diaphragm (red)
• Pelvic floor (orange)
• Deep back (Multifidus) muscles (yellow)
These muscles are important for the correct execution of Pilates exercises. Each movement is performed precisely from a consciously controlled centre. This is because the centre of the body is the foundation for all movements. Therefore, one learns to first strengthen and stabilise the core before working into the body’s periphery (with arms and legs).
As Pilates exercises are particularly focused on the muscles that build the core, it becomes clear every movement is initiated from the body’s centre. If the posture or muscle tone is initially very weak, the core must be strengthened first. This forms the bedrock of the Pilates method so that other stronger muscle groups do not take over the work of the core.
For example, it is improper to lift the head and shoulders by tightening the upper back muscles instead of using the abdominal muscles. This is why it is necessary to build strength and muscle tone from the centre in order to make movements effortless, easier and more fluid. Only then can the other muscle groups be trained effectively with the true support of a strong core.
The Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor muscle is a funnel-shaped structure that spans the bottom of the pelvis. It encompasses the body’s “openings” for urination and defecation, i.e. for continence. In addition to its role in continence and support for the vaginal wall, the pelvic floor helps to modulate intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) and stiffness of the sacroiliac joints. Further it contributes in everyday movement of the lumbar spine and pelvis as well as both postural and respiratory functions.
The best way to activate it is to imagine pulling the walls of the funnel-shape muscle together upwards. Otherwise attempting to “draw” the ischial tuberosities towards each other is helpful. You can sense the muscles most when you urgently need to go to the toilet. These movements are small and sometimes difficult to feel, especially when the muscles are weak.
Effective breathing is part of true core strength. Controlled and above all conscious breathing is a prerequisite for Pilates exercises. Breathing during Pilates training goes deep and wide into the back, body sides and abdomen. The lungs are filled during inhalation when the diaphragm expands the chest 360° in all directions. As you exhale, the diaphragm slackens, causing the air to flow out of the lungs.
Each Pilates exercise begins with either an inhalation or exhalation. Pilates movement is always coordinated with the breath so that a flow of movement with the deep flow of breath takes place rhythmically.