Ask most people what Pilates is all about and the answer is invariably “your core” or “core stability”. Before you begin the Vitalflow Pilates programme you start with the video “Before you Begin” where you learn how to find neutral position and the key core muscles involved in maintaining stability. But what exactly happens?
Throughout history, the importance of contracting the lower abdomen has been noted: this is nothing new – older than Joseph Pilates! In yoga it is referred to as applying the bandha, unifying the combined energy of the inhalation and exhalation. In martial arts and particularly in Tai Chi, drawing the belly back to the spine precedes each movement. Modern research has shown that drawing the navel back to the spine causes a co-contraction of the Transversus Abdominis (TA) and the Multifidus Spinae (MF)
With research we are gaining an ever-growing insight into the role of the core and how it works. In someone with Vitalflow ideal posture and no back problems, the core muscles are automatically recruited prior to any movement, thereby offering the required support for the spine. With back problems affecting some 80% of the population at some time in their lives, the importance of improving our posture and practising Pilates to strengthen the core seems logical.
So which muscles contribute to core stability? These are the deepest muscles, the ones you can’t see and tend to be involved with stability rather than the global muscles (visible in athletes) which enable movement. Together, they make a kind of cylinder shape:-
o Transversus Abdominis (TA): This is the deepest layer of abdominal muscle and runs horizontally, more or less in a circle from the ribcage right down through the pelvis.
o Multifidus Spinae: This is the deepest of the back muscles, running the whole length of the spine.
o Internal Obliques: These lay between the TA and external obliques, running in a V shape from the ribs to the pelvis.
o Pelvic Floor: The pelvic floor makes up the bottom of the cylinder and acts like a hammock supporting the pelvic organs.
INTRA ABDOMINAL PRESSURE (IAP)
The co-contraction of the core muscles increases intra abdominal pressure which reduces compression on the lumbar spine. The contraction and the IAP together act as support and stabilise the pelvis and back. A very important part of a Pilates exercise is the preparation: as you exhale, you draw navel to spine, draw up the pelvic floor and hollow out the abdomen. You maintain this gentle contraction as you inhale: be aware of the rib cage lifting and opening out; notice the lengthening through the spine and from the pubic bone to the breast bone. You can think of IAP as the air in a balloon, the balloon being the core cylinder, the visual used above. When the cylinder is full, the balloon is strong and supported; when the air is out, the balloon is floppy.