If you’re currently looking around for a Pilates class, either by visiting fitness centers and gyms, or simply by searching for courses on the Internet, you’re sure to have come across the term ‘Core Strength’ countless times. All Pilates classes boast that their programs can help boost your core strength as a vital part of improving your overall health. It’s become a real buzz term but do you know what it means? When pressed many people say it’s something to do with stomach muscles but surely our sit-up regime is taking care of that! There’s a little more to core strengthening than pumping up your abs. In fact, it’s so vital that Joseph Pilates put it at the very heart of his exercise program.
Core strength is about more than getting rid of a belly and toning your abdominals, though both are laudable aims. It is more about your general fitness, power and bodily alignment. Your core comprises the muscles that make up your mid trunk area, including your abs and lower back and side muscles (called obliques), as well as muscles around the top of your hips and glutes. All muscle groups vital to supporting your spine.
Your core muscles are the link between your upper and lower body and and if this link is strong, your body is better able to work as an integrated whole. If you envision your body as a tree, where is the strength coming from? It isn’t in the branches and twigs but from the trunk. Without strength in your trunk there is little point working out the rest of the body – the trunk supports the whole.
The benefits of core strengthening:
- A lot of people suffer from debilitating back pain. However, in many cases, it isn’t your spine that is weak, but the muscles surrounding it. By strengthening your lower back muscles you create a natural, supportive corset, making you less at risk of injury. A strong core can also stop you developing back problems as you age, especially if you have a sedentary job which can lead back pain too.
- A strong core improves your posture. People who work out a lot rarely slump or slouch. By adding strength to your core, you stand straighter, making you look leaner.
- Your core gives you agility and stability, which are vital for any functional movement. Even if you are not in the best of shape, you still need to turn, bend over to put on your shoes and lift things up. When you perform these movements you use your core. It is vital to your everyday health. When you train your core you are also improving your ability to flex and move more freely.
Pilates and the core
Forget about only working solely on your abs or that ever elusive six-pack, those will come in time. By targeting the areas around your middle, or ‘centering’, you initiate a process of controlling movement from your center through your abs, back muscles and buttocks. This is the heart of any Pilates program.
Mat Pilates in particular aims at making a mind-muscle connection with your abdominal muscles. Through this you can use your abs for improved support, stabilization and power and enjoy better functionality in all activities. Pilates also helps bring flexibility to muscles rather than simply firmness. A muscle that is flexible is a strong muscle. It allows functional movement rather than just allowing you to look good in your beach attire.
If you are interested in taking a Pilates class merely to lose weight, you are probably in the wrong place. Pilates is not really a cardiovascular exercise or calorie burner. Yes, you will trim your body down and have a flatter midsection but the real benefits are deeper and longer lasting: a stronger, healthier back and body.
The beauty of Pilates is that it offers something to everyone, whatever your age or fitness level and isn’t simply a fad for gym fans looking for the perfect body. It helps to eliminate the aches and pains of life and leaves you feeling better…to the very core.