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Let’s Hear it for the CORE ….

(Round of applause)

Before doing any pilates, it is worth knowing what the core means and how you benefit from having a strong one. During my classes I often refer to it as your powerhouse or girdle of strength as it is where all movements stem from.

 It forms the basis of your pilates practice.

The Visual

Pilates classes resources Fig.1 Core muscles

A group of muscles are involved in creating core activation. The visual I use is a can of soup. The lid of the can is your diaphragm muscle (sits under your rib cage like an umbrella), the bottom of the can is your pelvic floor (sling of muscles under your pubic bone), the sides are your transverse abdominis (under your six pack), and the back of the can is your multifidus muscle (a series of muscles which run either side of your spine). Other muscles are involved but these are the main ones.


Activating the Core

To find your pelvic floor muscles, try to stop the flow of urine when you go to the toilet.

To find your transverse abdominis muscle, place your thumbs over your belly button and hands over your hips with fingers towards your pubic bone and cough strongly. You will feel the muscle move under your fingers. Now draw the muscles in towards your spine slowly so the muscle feels strong and solid but not braced or overly tense.

You may have heard the phrase draw in and up as a way to describe engaging the pelvic floor and transverse abdominis muscles together.


How can core strength benefit you on a daily basis?

Sitting at your desk

  • Stability in your lower back to prevent back ache
  • Mobility in your back
  • Correct sitting posture to reduce neck and shoulder ache

Using a phone

  • Mobility in neck and shoulders
  • Stability in upper body and shoulders
  • Good sitting posture to reduce neck and shoulder discomfort

Carrying bags (laptop, handbag)

  • Spinal stability against lateral (sideways) forces
  • Strong and balanced posture
  • Reduced shoulder muscle tightness

Lifting (baby, boxes, weights)

  • Mobility in neck and shoulders
  • Good lifting technique to avoid back strain
  • Strong postural muscles
  • Lateral, rotational and isometric strength (the plank)


  • Spinal mobility
  • Isometric, lateral and rotational strength
  • Reduced tension in lower back and shoulders


  • Mobility in neck, shoulders and lower back
  • Lower back stability and strength
  • Good sitting posture
  • Reduced lower back, shoulder and hip flexor pain


  • Stability and strength in all movements
  • Stability in upper back and lower back against sideways and rotational forces
  • Reduced lower back pain


  • Good form or posture to help prevent injury
  • Endurance improved for better performance
  • Greater mobility and flexibility for better muscle function
  • Stability and strength in all movements
  • Better balance

What is core training?

Core Mobility

This is the precursor to any core work. It is important to mobilise (warm up) your spine and hips before exercise to loosen the tight muscles and encourage the weaker muscles to function properly.  Stiff joints or hypermobile ones will lead to imbalances as one part of the body is forced to compensate for the lack of movement or increased range of movement in another.

The body can generally be divided up into zones which are stable (S) or mobile (M). Each mobile zone needs to retain adequate mobility not to force instability into the stable zone. See Fig.2.


Core Stability

This is key to any pilates practice. It is the way you control your mid-section or lower torso to improve posture and movement of your arms and legs. It focuses on the core muscles mentioned earlier to create a cylinder of strength. The main deep muscles are: multifidus at the back, transverse abdominis to the sides and pelvic floor at the bottom. These stabilise your spine during most movements while your gluteus (bottom) muscles and QL (side of waist) stabilise your pelvis.


Core Strength

Once core stability has been mastered, you can move on to core strength. Your core muscles can now be safely pushed beyond normal demands and held in positions to test your endurance strength.

Pilates classes resources

Fig 2: Stable and Mobile Zones of the body.

Reading the table from left to right you work your way up the body and down the arms.

Pilates classes resources

I highly recommend attending a class where your core strength is assessed by a qualified clinical pilates teacher beforehand.
Although most teachers teach different levels of difficulty for each exercise, it helps the teacher to know any areas of weakness so you are provided with modifications. If in doubt, book a 1-to-1 session and join a class at your gym after you can confidently activate your core.
Even better, visit a physiotherapist who can check your core activation with an ultra-sound gadget!

CORE-blimey that was long enough on that juicy topic!!!

(writer takes a bow, curtains close)

You can find more articles by Vanessa on her blog.

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I suffered from back ache for many years, and it became so bad that I went to see my doctor, who apart from organising an X-ray suggested that I enrol in a pilates class.  It is a shame that more men do not attend as my back ache has virtually disappeared and if I do some heavy work and it comes back it heals much quicker than before. Vanessa, apart from being a very jolly person, clearly knows what she is doing.

Male – Retired

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