Explore the core - Part I
We all have a core in our body but some are more developed than others. This article is the first of two blogs exploring the core and how Pilates can be beneficial in strengthening the core.
The core consists of the deep abdominal muscles along with those closest to the spine. Unlike what a lot of people think the core is not just the area around the belly button. And it certainly is not just the ‘six-pack’ that so many of us want to achieve. It involves a lot of different muscles.
Abdominal muscle group (rectus abdominis, internal obliques, external obliques and transverse abdominals)
Back muscles that support the spine (erector spinae and multifidus muscles)
Iliopsoas, the butt muscle group (gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and gluteus maximus)
Periformis muscle (the only rotator that attaches the sacrum and pelvis)
Hip flexors (psoas major, iliacus, rectus femoris, pectinous and sartorius)
Hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris)
Inner thighs (pectineus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, adductor longus and gracilis)
All these muscles work together to support and stabilise the spine when we move or lift a load.
Control of the core is achieved by integrating the trunk, pelvis and shoulder girdle. Joseph Pilates already talked about developing a 'girdle of strength' in the 1920s by learning to recruit these deep-trunk muscles. Even without a complete knowledge of anatomy and the benefits of the latest muscle activity research, he was aware of the importance of the deep muscles and their supportive effects.
Recruiting the deeper core muscles prior to your superficial layers is just like adding floors to a sturdy skyscraper and your back will become strong. If the core muscles are weak and their active timing is incorrect, so not switched on actively, you are likely to slouch and you can experience back pain.
Pilates exercises will help you develop a strong core. However, there are two misconceptions to address and to manage your expectations. I already mentioned the outer abdominal muscles - six-pack - which look aesthetically nice but only form a small part of the core muscles. Perhaps a bigger ‘core’ mistake is that people think: ‘Ok, I have worked on those muscles and now I have a strong core’. Unfortunately that is not the case.
Pilates’ approach to body conditioning encompasses not only the core but also the mind and body. Joseph Pilates named his method ‘the Art of Contrology’… and controlling your entire body and using it to the full is therefore key. In Pilates we are not excluding any areas outside the core, so if you control your core – your body’s ‘powerhouse’ – then you control your body.
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Marco Dingemans is a qualified Classical Pilates mat instructor