“Engage your core!”
No doubt that you have heard your instructor announce this when you begin and new exercise in your Pilates class, and it is an extremely common instruction that you may hear when doing any exercise class. But the reality is that not too many people actually know what their ‘core’ is and what muscles make-up their ‘core’, so in this article we will describe exactly what your instructor is referring to when they say “engage your core!”.
What is your Core?
For most people the core refers to the muscles in their tummy, and this isn’t incorrect because the abdominal muscles in your tummy do form a fundamental part of your core, but your core also includes the muscles in the surrounding areas of your tummy such as the muscles in your hips, bum and back.
Why is Core Strength important?
One of the main functions of your core muscles are to act as stabilisers for bigger movements, so they provide the stability and balance in order for other muscles to exert larger amounts of force, for example if you were performing a serve in tennis, in order for you to exert more power through your arm and shoulder your core provides the stability in order to maintain rhythm and balance.
Another key function of your core muscles is to help maintain good posture and to protect your spine. With a well-balanced, strong core you encourage your spine to maintain a neutral position, and this will not only prevent injury or damage but it will also maintain your spinal flexibility and mobility.
So what muscles make up your core?
As described above your abdominal muscles are a major component of your core, and there are three major sections of the tummy that we work in class:
– The Internal & External Obliques – These are the muscles in the side of your tummy and they assist without rotational movements and lateral flexion (side bending) of the spine.
– Rectus Abdominis – Yes, this is your ‘six-pack’, these muscles (upper and lower) form the front area of the tummy and assist with spinal flexion.
– Transversus Abdominis (TVA) – This deeper parts of the tummy (very important for finding neutral spine), this muscles helps support your spine, and also assist with maintaining internal abdominal pressure which is extremely important for controlling your breathing.
Other key muscles in your core include;
– Erector Spinae Muscles – This group of muscles run along the full length of your spine from your lower back all the way up to your neck. The function of these muscles is to extend your spine, and to keep your spine up-right, they also assist with rotation.
– Gluteal Muscles – These are the muscles found in each buttock, there are 3 glute muscles (gluteus maximis, medius and minimus), although the main function of these muscles is lower limb movement they also contribute to pelvic positioning, and ensure that your lower spine and pelvis are neutral.
Pilates is perfect for strengthening all your core muscles, and in every class, in every exercise you will be challenging multiple muscles within your core. So the next time you’re in class and the instructor tells you to ‘engage your core’ you’ll know that he is not only referring to the muscles in the tummy!