Pilates, the powerhouse and core strength
If you're a regular in class you'll hear me constantly referencing the core, and you'll certainly feel yourself using it...But what is 'the core' and why is it so important to strengthen it?
Your core essentially incorporates the muscles the support your torso - helping to protect the spine and enable safe movement. Weakness in this region can lead to a multitude of problems including structural misalignment, poor posture and other musculoskeletal issues such as back pain.
Joseph Pilates believed that all movement flowed from the centre of the body outwards, thus developing his exercise programme to strengthen everything surrounding and supporting this centre (or what you may typically consider to be 'the core'). He referred to the muscles required to execute his repertoire as 'the powerhouse' - which without getting too heavy on the anatomical side includes the core, but also extends beyond to recruit muscles such as those in the hips and bottom.
Think of the 'powerhouse' as a cylinder wrapping around the body from the diaphragm to the pelvic floor that includes the internal and external muscles that span our front, back and sides, and reaches down to include those mentioned above (in our hips and bottom). Everything within that cylinder helps transfer force and load between the upper and lower body - assisting the way we go about functional tasks such as sitting and standing, or participate in other activities such as walking, running, swimming, cycling or even doing the vacuuming or gardening. When you consider what you use the muscles of the 'powerhouse' for...it begins to make sense why it is a necessity to keep them strong.
It is also important to remember that developing strength and stability in this region supports the alignment of the spine, pelvis and ribs - which is where Pilates gains its association with the ability to help improve posture. Strengthening muscles that may have been lengthened through many years of holding certain positions (like sitting at a desk), can help realign areas of the body that may have been pulled out of place (such as the pelvis). Conversely, lengthening muscles that may have been pulled tight over long periods of time has the same effect.
Often people wrongly associate the 'core' solely with the abdominal region, and assume that exercises that develop strength in the front of the tummy that we associate with the 'six pack' are the same as those developing core strength. Those muscles do of course contribute, but a whole host of other muscles need to be recruited too when exercising in order to strengthen the core, that involve more movement than your classic sit up.
This is where Pilates comes into its own! The majority of Pilates exercises require the use of multiple core muscles alongside those additional muscles that make up the 'powerhouse' in order to be executed. You may have noticed that the majority of exercises performed lying on your back involve assuming a sit up or 'crunch' position...but then bring in the use of arms and legs in some capacity so as to extend your workout beyond just the abdominals.
Take for example the hundred - the Pilates classic notorious for its taxing nature but great effects. The muscles worked when performing this exercise include the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, pelvic floor, obliques, hip flexors, hip adductors, quadriceps, serratus anterior and the scapular stabilising muscles...phew! So when doing the hundred you're working beyond your core to include the entire 'powerhouse' and then some! Hence how Pilates gained its reputation for being a 'full body conditioning workout'.