Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Getting down to the core


The core is the centre, the inside.  And our core, like this apple's is central to our body and pretty deep inside us.

Unlike the apple, what we have is an 'anticipatory core' which is several sets of muscles which are designed to fire up before we move a limb.   This means stability for the abdomen (and therefore our lower back) every time we need it.

These muscles are -

- our diaphragm (our primary breathing muscle in the lower ribcage)
- our deepest abdominals (Transverse Abdominus that wraps around the abdomen like a muscular corset)
- our pelvic floor muscles (several layers of muscle at the base of our pelvis)
- our multifidi (the deepest muscles running along, and stabilising, the spine)

And these muscles are constantly active as we're using them to breathe all the time.  

For this anticipatory system to function well we need to have and to keep the following -

1. Good posture - particularly how the rib-cage and the pelvis align.

2. Good breathing - using the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles between the ribs to produce optimal diaphragmatic breathing.

3.  Motor control of our Transverse Abdominus and our pelvic floor muscles - being about to identify and connect to both sets of muscles.  (Research suggests that in those of us with back problems these muscles fire differently - often more slowly or at too high an intensity).   These muscles also need to relax as well as to contract.   Short, tight muscles are not strong muscles.

4.  And a lack of tension in our bodies - conscious and unconscious gripping of muscles in the lower abdomen or the chest can also affect how our core functions.

So exercises that train and then strengthen our core are going to be relatively gentle movements combined with body awareness - feeling what's working and what isn't working.

When we work harder our bodies will automatically fire more superficial muscles as well.  This can mask a problem and reinforce our compensation patterns by more superficial muscles that aren't designed to stabilise us.

So doing lots of high impact ab work (e.g. lying on your back with both legs, both arms and your head lifted) is great if you have optimal posture, you breathe well, you move well and have full, functioning motor control of the pelvic floor and deepest abs and you don't have a gripping pattern in your body.   But how many of us can honestly say - "Yes, that's me"?!!

Some of the best trained Pilates teachers take a minimum of a year to finish training so they have the time to get their bodies to the point where they can master the hardest classical Pilates exercises.   That tells us something..

For a functioning body that feels good - we need to get down to the core.

And below, two clients tell us the benefits they gain from our way of training and strengthening the core.
I have been surprised at the impact small and seemingly gentle movements have had on my body. Pilates has improved my body awareness, flexibility and strength. I come away from each session feeling more toned but at the same time really relaxed and stretched out.

My job causes me to hunch my shoulders a lot thus causing a lot of stress on my neck, shoulders and arms, physical activity does not relieve this but Pilates has helped an incredible amount, through muscle release, breathing techniques and strengthening core muscle.  In particular one to one sessions have helped me to really locate the different muscles and work on them to relieve the tension. I also used to suffer a lot with headaches but they are much less frequent now and if I feel one coming on then I can usually apply something from Pilates to relieve it.
Elizabeth H
Caroline’s classes are well structured and she is a careful and focussed instructor.  I have begun to understand how small but targeted movement can really help flexibility and mobility.  I enjoy the classes and feel I am learning about how my body works and how I can maintain it in good working order.
Jane G