Understand the conceptual and physical definitions of core to enhance your workouts!
by Dawn Lefebvre, BScN, BScKin
Core is one of the fundamentals of Pilates, but it can be hard to know exactly what it is! As clients you hear it many times in a single workout, used in lots of different ways, but do you understand what it means?
The word “core” usually means the centre of something (like an apple or a planet), and this is actually a good symbol for our core too. Our core is our centre, and everything else attaches to it. Another metaphor is to think of an atom, where the nucleus is at the centre with its electrons moving around it. This constant motion in the periphery is like the movement of our limbs around our core. One of the most essential elements of Pilates is the concept of core stability, where we maintain our centre while moving our arms, legs, and even our upper torso. Think about doing Hundreds, where your arms are moving (and sometimes the legs as well!) and your upper body is curled up – during all of this, your core is holding you stable, allowing everything to happen in a smooth, controlled manner around it.
As important as having a clear understanding of the core is, it’s also essential to remember that the core doesn’t work in isolation. We need to learn how to engage the core properly, but even more we have to be able to use the core to connect with the rest of our body and have it function as the connection point for our whole body as a system. The other half of understanding your core is breath – watch our blog for more detailed info about the importance of breathing well (in Pilates, and all the time!)
Outside of Pilates, the core is often misunderstood, with people focusing only on superficial muscles like the obliques and the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscle). While these are definitely part of the core and important parts of the overall system, their function is limited and there are several deeper muscle layers that provide the stability and control that is required for safe, functional movement. The deep core muscles act like an internal corset, supporting the whole upper body and protecting the spine. While we often think of the core as being in our abdomen, our corset doesn’t just sit in the front! The core also includes muscles in our back that help support the spine and assist the front muscles.
Our “corset” is made up of several muscles: diaphragm at the top, pelvic floor supporting from below, transversus abdominis wrapping around the lower torso from front to back, psoas connecting the spine to the femur, multifidus supporting the spine, and finally the rectus abdominis and internal and external obliques on the outside, completing the front and sides of the corset.
This complex system can’t be trained just with crunches, and it is so much more than just a muscle on the front of our abdomen that helps us look good in a bathing suit! Our core helps us move safely and efficiently, whether we’re walking to the mail box or running a marathon. Together with breathing, the core protects, supports, stabilizes, and enhances all of our movements – in Pilates class, and in the rest of your life!