Core stability is one of the 6 key principals of Pilates, although that particular term was not originally used by Joseph Pilates himself – who tended to use the word the “powerhouse” to describe the corset of muscles around the waist that supports the spine.
Basically all movement in Pilates flows from a strong centre and is therefore powered from the core. It is really important to remember that the core is not just our rectus abdominis muscles (commonly known as the six pack) but, as already mentioned the corset of muscles that make up our entire central unit, including our pelvic floor muscles and all the muscles that stabilise the spine, pelvis and ribcage.
Strong core muscles make it easier to do many activities, such as ride a horse well, swing a golf club, get a glass from the top shelf or even bend down to tie your shoe laces. Weak core muscles can leave you susceptible to a whole plethora of muscle injuries.
A strong core is therefore essential for our health, as it is responsible for our posture, our balance and our stability whether we are in the gym or just going about our daily life. In fact, most sports and other physical activities depend on stable core muscles. A strong core can also help prevent lower back pain or problems with the hips and knees.
The wonderful thing about Pilates is that it is relatively easy to strengthen your core. You don’t need specialized equipment or have to go to a gym, you can do all the exercises at home!
There are a multitude of exercises that target one or more specific muscles but some of the best core exercises are those that work with the entire muscle group.
Full details for one of these exercises are shown below but for a full Core workout please click here
The Bird Dog is a classic exercise for developing the powerhouse as it engages both the abdominal and back muscles at the same time. The main target of the Bird Dog is the erector spinae muscle group. This group of muscles extends along the length of the spine, on both the right and left sides, from the base of skull to the sacrum. It is responsible for extending, flexing, and rotating the spine. The Bird Dog also involves the gluteus maximus (the largest of the muscles in your butt), which is engaged when you raise the leg. In raising the arm, you use your trapezius muscles in the upper back and the deltoids of the shoulder.
In addition to the muscles already mentioned, the oblique and abdominal muscles as well as the hamstrings on the back of the thigh and the other gluteal muscles (medius and minimus) are involved in stabilising the position.
- Start on your hand and knees in an All-4s Position, with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Draw your belly button in towards your spine, starting at the pelvic floor and zipping up towards your spine.
- Then lift your left arm and your right leg off the floor. You may need to practice lifting one hand and the opposite knee just an inch or two off the floor while balancing on the other hand and knee and keeping your weight centered.
- When you feel steady and ready to move on to full range of motion, point the arm out straight in front and extend the opposite leg behind you. You should form one straight line from your hand to your foot, keeping hips squared to the ground. If your lower back begins to sag, raise your leg only as high as you can while keeping your back straight.
- Hold for a few seconds then return your hands and knees to the starting position.
- Increase the difficult of the exercise by doing 10 small pumps of both the raised arm and leg.
- Swop diagonals.