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, we have an 'anticipatory core.'   This is a motor control system involving sets of muscles designed to fire up to stabilise us before we move.  This means stability for the abdomen (and therefore our lower back) every time we need it.

Muscles of the anticipatory core 

These include;

- our diaphragm (our primary breathing muscle in the lower ribcage)

- our deep 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)

These muscles are constantly active if we breathe optimally.

                                                                              Core function


Core muscles

For this anticipatory system to function well we need the following;

1. Optimal posture – particularly head, rib and pelvic position, both as independent units but also in the way they align with each other (e.g. ribs to pelvis).

2. Optimal breathing – gentle expansion and deflation of the lungs inside the rib cage, all of the muscles, organs and fascia involved in the breath.

3.  Optimal motor function of all of these muscles – they need to be able to contract and expand as required.   This is happening in optimal breathing patterns.  It’s also needed with movement and loading.  For example, as we move from sitting to standing, the deepest muscles (especially pelvic floor) need to respond appropriately before we move, to create sufficient stability.

Core dysfunction


It’s very easy to knock this system out of balance.  When we lose optimal breath, we tend to create holding patterns to stabilise us instead.  This might be chest gripping which then creates unhelpful pressure in the abdomen.


Or, we might consciously hold ourselves, for example, holding in the belly.  This will affect all of the other muscles in our team.  It creates weakness in the abdominals as they can no longer function well, neither expanding nor contracting fully.  Plus, it causes unhelpful pressure in the abdomen, often meaning problems for the pelvic floor.

The core and Pilates work


If we focus on this anticipatory core in our Pilates work, we need to start with the basics (and keep returning to them often).  This means working towards optimal breath, alignment and motor function. 


It will involve gentle movement without excessive load.  Key is awareness of breath, alignment and efficient movement without excessive effort. 


Challenging the body’s stability comes next, introducing wobbliness to positions. 


Then, as we are functional beings who stand up (as well as lie down on mats!) we need to find movements that integrate the whole body.  When we’re standing on one leg (something we do all the time in walking and running) – we are relying on much more that just our anticipatory core for stability.  

Understanding the current science around how our fascia functions gives us more answers and also many different strategies and exercises to help us work on greater stability. 

How Pilates helps
Two clients share the benefits they’ve gained from this way of training.
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 

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