Build a Strong Core With Pilates

Picture a tree with a long, strong and stable trunk supporting its branches. Now imagine yourself as a tree – are you strong and stable through your core?  If not you need to try some Pilates.

Pilates focuses on strengthening the core and is great for posture and easing back pain. But what do we mean by core? The core includes muscles that run the entire length of the torso. To build a strong core you need to engage in a variety of exercises from your shoulders to your hips.

Ever heard the term “centering” during Pilates?

One of the fundamentals of Pilates is “Centering” and is used to control every exercise. It means more than just contracting your abdominals, it’s the use of your pelvic floor, abdominals, lumbar spine, mid back, thighs and gluteal muscles. It is great for strengthening the core.

Strengthening the core will involve engaging your abdominal muscles whilst completing any back exercises. Allow your neck to be long and away from your shoulders and remember your breathing techniques.

If you currently have back pain consult with your healthcare practitioner before undertaking any exercises.

How to get started?

Start with good breathing as this is key to controlling natural rhythm to movement and greatly enhances the experience of a workout.

Joseph Pilates in his book return to life through Controlology quoted,

 “lazy breathing converts the lungs, literally and figuratively speaking, into a cemetery for the deep position of disease, dying and dead germs as well as supplying an ideal haven for the multiplication of other harmful germs.”

Tips for good breathing: Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth and as you breathe try to relax the top of the shoulders and the chest and breathe out into the back of the ribs.

Let’s add in a few exercises to get you going:

One great exercise is the Pelvic Tilt;

This is a great example of engaging your abdominal muscles to support and lengthen the lower back.

  • Firstly, lie on your back with your knees bent and hip distance apart, feet flat on the floor.

  • Let the natural curves of your spine be neutral do not force your back into the floor.

  • Taken an inhale to prepare

  • As you exhale tip your pelvis towards you and roll up through the spine, bit by bit.

  • When you reach one long line, remember still engaging abdominals and glute muscles, inhale at the top, feel like the knees are reaching away from you.

  • Then exhale to slowly roll down from the top of your spine and uncurl.

Repeat this exercise 3 to 5 times.

Secondly let’s try the Breaststroke prep;

This exercise is an excellent way of providing strength to the back extensor muscles which  tend to be weak in people who have back pain. Start this exercise slowly and only come up a few inches to start with.

  • This time, lie on your front grab a small head pad (folded towel)for under the forehead if required.

  • With your legs out long- toes reaching away -feet together, arms by your shoulders-palms down on the ground by your ears. Paul the tips of your shoulder blades down towards the base of your back.

  • Remember as you engage your pelvic floor lower abdominal's, inhale to start

  • as you exhale press your forearms into the floor and starts to lift your chest, do not let your ribs off the floor- reaching your head forwards and upwards, do not over extend your neck it needs to be in alignment with your spine.

  • Inhale as you hold this position and engage abdominal's.

  • Exhale to lower and lengthen on the way back down to your starting position.

Again, repeat this exercise 3 to 5 times.

Lastly, let’s finish with a Shell stretch;

This exercise is for breathing into the back of your ribs and stretching out your lumbar spine.

  • Start by kneeling on the floor with your bottom on your heels

  • place your hands in front of you on the floor or behind you on the floor

  • Inhale and breathe into the back of your ribs

  • On the exhale push the air into the lower back really feel your back expand and stretch.

Repeat this exercise three times and allow any tension to be released from your lower spine.

There are a lot’s more exercises in the Pilates repertoire but those few will get you started.

With any exercise if there’s pain and discomfort stop the exercises immediately!


Notes about neutral spine:

If you’ve never heard of the term neutral spine let me elaborate, if you lie on the floor and press your lower back into the floor and then release so that the lower spine has its natural curves this is the term “neutral spine”.