It's 1996...your Pilates teacher is telling you to activate your 'core' whilst you're going up and down about 50 million stairs with your pelvic floor. You don't really know what your doing but you're sucking in your tummy and trying to hold in a wee, so it must be doing something.
We've all been there.
Guess what, we're not in the 90s anymore Dorothy, and I call for the retirement of the word 'core'.
I'm in good company, many Pilates teachers have never really used the term, as Joe Pilates would refer to the 'Powerhouse' or 'Centre'. But I totally get that it's in our vocal now as a way to describe some kind of weakness we might feel, mostly in the abdominals, Countless times people have said to me 'I have no core', 'my core strength doesn't exist', 'I want to strengthen my core'. It happens a lot after babies, women have this different body that doesn't do what it used to, and we almost grieve that time when we could effortlessly pop ourselves up into a crunch without feeling a shakiness in our abs, a heaviness in the pelvic floor, or lower back pain. And suddenly you need to start taking your time to build everything up again, and there's no quick fix. But, it's the body's way of saying slow the hell down please, I've carried this child for near 10 months, gone through labour, given life....and now you're complaining I'm not strong enough?! Never doubt that glorious body of yours! It just needs to heal, rebuild, and if done the right way you'll come out stronger.
So... I digress a little. The core. What is it exactly?
Have a think.
Yeah we'll all thinking of different things really. For me, I used to think about an apple core, so when referred to in relation to the body, it would make me think of the abs down the centre of my stomach, to put it crudely.
In Pilates we refer to the Powerhouse, which consists of...
1. Your abdominals from the bottom of the ribs to the very bottom of the pelvis, and don't just think six pack muscles, we're talking obliques and pelvic floor too, helping to cinch in and up.
2. The back of the hips and buttocks....It's easy to forget the back line at this point - because your muscles aren't just stuck on the front of your stomach are they? So consider the sit bones pulling together, the back of the hips working to stabilise.
So this is your column of strength from which to move from, not only strengthening this area and aligning the body but enabling you to perform moves in the safest possible way for your back. As instructors we bang on about the activation of the powerhouse so much, that Pilates has become the exercise for rehabilitation, the limbs being able to move freely whilst protecting the spine.
When you begin to see the bigger picture, it becomes easier to perform any exercise more efficiently, but you also start to realise that there's not one special way to strengthen this (pretty huge) area of muscles, it needs to be a range of exercises that can address difference muscles in different ways. Think about sculpting your way around the trunk of the body, internally and externally, and applying the powerhouse activation to ALL exercise.
We can also take it to a functional level. How you walk, get up from a chair, pick up your child, because at the end of the day these everyday habits are the things that do the long term damage.
I've recorded a short audio on how to activate the powerhouse lying on your back, I hope it all makes sense!
Now get to a Pilates class and put it all into action.