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How Pilates Can Help Core Strength

When it comes to training our core muscles, a lot of us can be guilty of just adding a few sets of crunches or leg raises to the end of a workout not giving much thought to technique, tempo or reps.

Well, this might help us get a little more definition in our abs muscles, but when it comes to building all round strong and powerful core, it leaves us lacking somewhat.

Hold on – What exactly is the difference between abs and core?

The two phrases are often used interchangeably but there is a big difference between the two.

Our abs are made up of one muscle group, located at the front of out torso, and divided into six intersections. Known technically as rectus abdominis, but more commonly referred to as our abs or  “six pack”. Their main function, during exercise, is to draw the rib cage to the pelvis.

Your core on the other hand, is a group of muscles that are used in stabilising our torso and mid-section. The core is made up of muscle such as our abdominals, obliques and erector spinae and hip muscles. Working together, they help us balance, keep good posture and generate torque and force during exercise.

So when we’re looking to build complete core strength, we need to do more than just a few sit ups tagged on at the end of a workout.

This is where dedicating time to Pilates can be beneficial.

Pilates role in core strength

Pilates is a training protocol that first came about in the early 20th century in Germany. Originally it was prescribed as an exercise program for people recovering from injuries. Its purpose is to improve the bodies strength as a whole, but places emphasis on the core muscles.

Similar to Yoga, Pilates concentrates on stability, posture and flexibility.

Pilates helps improve your overall core strength by focussing not only on your muscles on the surface, but by also targeting your transverse abdominis, which is a deep internal core muscle that wraps around your trunk – in essence, it’s your body’s natural support belt.

Studies have shown that a weak traverse abdominis may also be to blame for, and associated with, lower back pain, which is why Pilates is so often prescribed for this issue.  (1)

Pilates Exercises for a stronger core

Below we have our top Pilates exercises that will target and strengthen your transverse abdominisa, as well as working your other key core muscles including your obliques, erector spinae and of course, your abs.

Complete 5 rounds in total, performing each exercise for 30 -60 seconds, to match your current fitness level.

Plank Leg Lift

  • Start in the high plank position, with arms out straight and hands directly under the shoulders.
  • Alternate lifting one leg off the floor at a time as high as you can
  • Engage your obliques, glutes and quads to avoid rocking side to side

 

Pendulum swings

  • Lying flat on your back, place your hands at your side and raise your legs over your hips and lift feet off the mat, creating a 900 angle at your knee.
  • Keeping your legs locked together, slowly lower them down to your right side, keeping your lower back pressed against the floor.
  • Return back to the middle position and duplicate on you left.
  • Repeat back and forth.

Side Plank Reach Under

  • Start off in a side plank position, with your bottom elbow and fore arm on the floor.
  • Raise your hips so you create a straight line from your ankles to your shoulder, with your legs stacked on top of one another.
  • Extend your top arm up straight so its perpendicular to the floor
  • Keeping your torso stable and core tight, reach under and around your body with your top hand, pivoting onto your toes.
  • For second half of the set time, swap to your other side and repeat.

Hollow Hold

  • Start lying on your back and focus on pressing your lower back into the floor
  • Bring your knees to your chest and raise your shoulders off the floor, creating the tuck position
  • Extent your legs out in front, until they are straight and point your toes
  • Lift you arms over your head and point them straight behind you
  • Keep your chin down and into your chest and hold the position

 

The Core of the Problem

The main problem people have in building a strong and functional core, is that they don’t make it a priority in there in training.

Add the above exercises into your routine 2-3 times a week and you will see great improvements in your all round core stability, strength and posture, as well as reducing the risk of injury. (2)

Not only that, but it translates over and improves all your other exercises that require a strong and powerful core, which is virtually just about every single one of them.

 

References

  1. Hodges PW, Richardson CA. Delayed postural contraction of transversus abdominis in low back pain associated with movement of the lower limb. J Spinal Disord. 1998;11(1)
  2. Peate WF, Bates G, Lunda K, Francis S, Bellamy K. Core strength: a new model for injury prediction and prevention. J Occup Med Toxicol. 2007;2:3. Published 2007 Apr 11.

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