In our second article in our series of "Pilates.. Are we actually doing it right" we are looking at understanding our core. In our first article we looked at "Alignment & understanding neutral". If you missed it you can find it here Pilates.. Are we doing it right part 1.
Understanding the core. If I'm honest the biggest reason people attend Therapy sessions and/or attend my Specialist Pilates classes is because of some sort of back pain. One of aims they want to achieve is to improve their "core strength" in the hope that this will improve their back pain. Whilst important there are a few more things we need to consider.
Firstly, how do we know our "core" is actually weak? From simply having pain in the back doesn't always indicate that the "core" is weak.
The first thing I would consider would be alignment, as covered in the previous article. If we want to improve the "core" then the muscle would have to be in the correct position. If they are not chance we are just over working some muscles and under working the others, meaning they aren't going to function they way we want them to.
When we think of core exercises what do we think of? Sit up? Crunch? Plank?
Whilst the relevance of these exercises is the topic for another article or two, there is something more important to consider. Can we actually activate our "core". Now in Pilates this would be the Pilates principle "connections". This usually teaches how to switch on our abdominal muscles from the inside. Usually these are Pelvic Floor, Transverse Abdominis, Diaphragm (Covered in breathing article) & Multifidus. Now you don't need to worry about the terminology of these, its just worth knowing that if these muscles aren't switching on from the inside then we can do all the "core" exercises in the world but there unlucky to make a difference (sometimes they could make things worse!). Its worth noting here that activation of these abdominal muscles will have more chance of being effective if your body is correctly aligned and functioning properly, hence why the alignment principle and connections principle are both of similar importance.
This would also relate to the inner abdominal and out abdominal units, covered in John Gibbons book "Functional anatomy of pelvis and the sacroiliac joint". This quote from the book may make you realise why learning activation of the inner abdominal muscles mentioned above is important "The ability of the inner core unit muscles to contract prior to force production by the phasic muscles (biased towards movements) is actually considered more important than their inherent strength". It means that being able to activate any of this inner abdominal muscles is more important than any strength based "core" exercises.
Once we can activate the inner abdominal unit muscles, and you need to be patient as it takes a lot of practice over time, we can then progress onto exercises that incorporate the outer core unit. The outer core unit is an article in itself and we will cover this at a later date.
Hopefully this gives you a couple of things to think about and you can understand why standard "core" exercises probably won't improve our back pain alone.
As always please ask if you have any questions and keep an eye for our next article "Why its important to breath properly".
Gibbons, J. 2016. Functional anatomy of the Pelvis and the Sacroiliac joint p48
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Pilates Instructor & Therapist, helping you understand why we do what we do!