Anyone can just tense their stomach while they exercise but there is a difference between tensing your tummy and contracting your core – believe it or not! Contracting your core muscles properly offers a superior level of support and benefit to your body while you workout to build strength and stability within your body.
So first let me explain some of the core musculatures that we’re working within Pilates.
Rectus Abdominis – this is your six-pack. It’s there – even if you can’t see it! They lay on the outside of your tummy, closest to the surface of your skin. Being a well-known muscle and easy to visualise, it’s the muscle that a lot of people think about and work on while they exercise. Their primary function is to help promote movement between the ribs and the pelvis – ( torso flexion, like a chest lift) NOT used for stability or support to the spine! So this is the wrong muscle to be focusing on for support and stability. Focusing on this can actually lead to instability of the core and lead to back strain in strong abdominal exercises.
Obliques Internal/External – These ones lay on the sides of your torso, and again, their primary function is for movement, NOT stabilisation. They are primarily used for rotation of the trunk. Don’t get me wrong they are still important, but if you’re looking for stability for the spine, you won’t find it here.
Transverse Abdominis – Now this is where the gold lies! The transverse abdominals lie deepest and wrap horizontally around the torso from the spine. This is where your support comes from and should be where the power from your core lies. It supports the spine and helps to maintain an intraabdominal pressure.
So how do you know if they’re working?
The easiest way to feel them is by laying on your back with your hands on your tummy just to the side of your hip bones. Try and think of the deep layer of muscle and feel scooping or hollowing out the sensation of the belly as you drew inwards. The sensation can feel like tightening a belt between your front hip bones. When in doubt – laugh! You can usually feel them then. They can be especially difficult to find after surgery or pregnancy – if you need some assistance best talk to your qualified Pilates instructor or health professional.
So once you’ve found the precious babies, try to bring awareness to your core and check that you’re engaging your transverse abdominals to support your spine. You’ll get a safer and more efficient work out that your body will thank you for!