I like to describe the “core” as a bit like a house.
A house 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 – These are your breathing muscles and they form the “lid” or roof of your core, if you like. Ever wondered why I keep banging on about the importance of optimal breathing in class?! Well, now you know why.
Your diaphragm forms part of your core. You’ll note during class that I try and ask you to breathe into your ribcage (this is called lateral or sometimes ‘thoracic’ breathing), rather than up into your chest/down into your stomach, to help your diaphragm expand and contract properly and work in synergy with your core.
TRANSVERSUS ABDOMINIS – This is a very deep, internal muscle that wraps around the body, roughly from one hip bone to hip bone at the front of your pelvis.
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, in other words.
MULTIFIDUS – This is the back of your house, and your fundamental back support muscle.
Although few core-based exercises work this muscle in isolation, it’s kind of always switched on, buzzing away in the background, helping support your back, when yourcore is active.
If you place a hand at the front of your house, and a hand at the back of your house, draw your core muscles (the tummy muscles at the front of your house) inwards to maximum connection/as tight as you can, you may feel the back muscles tighten behind you too.
PELVIC FLOOR – The pelvic floor muscles are your house’s foundations.
When builders construct a house, if it 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, and more specifically, the better your core function.
You’ll be pleased to know though, that a lot of the Pilates/core-based exercises I have you doing in class work your pelvic floor, without you even realising it.
Whenever your core fires, your pelvic floor gets a workout too, because 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, pelvic floor is also switched on.
Pilates Instructors use several terms to describe the “core” eg your centre, yourpowerhouse, your corset muscle.
Whatever term it is that’s used, it’s important that you start with the basics in terms of exercise and technique like skeletal placement, pelvic and shoulder stabilisation etc…
…BEFORE you start loading the core before it’s ready, otherwise all sorts of problems occur including:
Back and pelvic pain
Abdominal separation (diastasis recti)
Pelvic floor dysfunction (including prolapse, stress/urge incontinence
Hernia (groin, belly button/umbilical and upper stomach/hiatal)
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 with the extra load.
Ever picked up a heavy object and felt your back go? That’s what will happen I’m afraid, if you don’t train your core regularly, and/or challenge your abdominal muscles – that’s what they were built for.
This comes with one caveat: don’t judge yourself by the person next to you in a Pilates class, judge yourself individually and your core strength too.
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.
Had your baby and suffering with back pain as a result of a weak core? Click here to find out more about my postnatal classes that baby comes along to too!
Can’t get to a class, but still want to get the benefits of Pilates? No problems!