I think Womens Health Magazine said it best when they wrote ‘…despite its reputation as the strength-building cousin of your flexibility-focused Vinyasa flow, (Pilates) classes certainly have an air of mystery about them’.
During my first one-on-one session with a client recently, I learned that she had no idea how to activate her core muscles. Up until this point, my she had been pushing her abs outward thinking that this was activating them. Unfortunately, all it was doing was making it hard for her to breathe properly during her exercises and training her abs to stick out rather than hold her tummy in. But because her abs were hard to touch when she was doing this, she had thought she was nailing it.
So, here I am to give you a quick tutorial on what your core actually is, and how to activate it.
When referring to your ‘core’ you are NOT just referring to your abs – the term can be quite broad and it technically includes the pelvic floor, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae, especially the longissimus thoracis and the diaphragm as well as the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius. With a list like this, I’m not surprised there is so much confusion.
Essentially, your core consists of your abdominals, obliques, lower back muscles, glutes and pelvic floor. That is all you need to know/remember.
The easiest way to begin to activate these muscles for women is to pretend that they are busting to do a wee, but have to hold it in. For men, it is to pretend that they have gas, but they need to hold it in because the elevator is full. Hold. it. in. Tight!
If the visuals don’t help, I find the following steps best;
- Stand with your feet in Pilates Stance (your heels squeezed together, toes pointing out so that your feet create a ‘V’ shape)
- From your heels to the tops of your thighs, you are squeezing together every possible gap between your legs
- Tilt your pelvis every so slightly forward (as if you are rolling your pubic bone up slightly to reach your belly button), while turning on your pelvic floor (see above instructions for men and women)
- Put your hands on your waist line and breathe in and out slowly, filling your lungs while keeping your tummy tucked in tightly, ribs stay ‘stitched’ in to your abdominal muscles – they don’t ‘pop out’
- You have now activated your core!
Once you have achieved this activation you can move your feet to whatever position you want and continue on with your workout, just make sure to maintain that feeling of ‘on-ness’ within your stomach and glutes. Re-visit this position whenever you need to, to turn it on again until it happens naturally.
An important note to remember is that just because you’re sucking in your tummy, doesn’t necessarily mean you have turned your ‘core’ on.
Personally, I find that once I have tipped my pelvis a little and turned on my pelvic floor, the rest happens naturally. Though this has come with many years of practice, and I am well in the habit of keeping my ‘core’ activated throughout the day. It does take time, but if you remind yourself every so often to re-activate, your body will soon learn.
I hope this has helped, if you are still completely lost or have any other questions please leave a comment below or send me a message via the ‘Contact’ tab in the menu at the top right of this page.
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