Core Muscles Are Key to Posture, Balance, and Much More
The Concept of the ‘Core’ Began With Pilates
What’s all the buzz about ‘core strength’ and why is Pilates considered the best at it? What exactly is the ‘core’ and why is it so critical to our health? Let’s take a look at these and other mysteries surrounding the core and Pilates!
Pilates is the most popular exercise method worldwide for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that it works like no other exercise for creating strength and flexibility in the center or ‘core’ of your body. No other method rivals the effectiveness of Pilates for core conditioning. This is why elite athletes do it and physical therapists prescribe it.
The ‘Core’ of Pilates
These unique exercises were created by Joseph Pilates nearly 100 years ago and refined by numerous disciples ever since. So effective are these exercises, that after 40 years of practicing and teaching this marvelous method, I conclude that Joseph Pilates is the Einstein of fitness.
He was a giant – a game-changer – in the fitness world. He invented the first exercise and rehab equipment and held dozens of patents. He discovered that strong abdominals cure most back problems and that slow and controlled movement protects joints – ideas now fully endorsed by the medical community.
He was the first fitness practitioner outside of eastern martial arts traditions to create exercises that train the mind as well as the body. And Pilates is one of the few methods that provides everything the body needs in one complete workout – cardio, stretching, and strength training. Plus, eccentric contraction and dynamic stretch, prominently used in every Pilates exercise, have been found to be better than any other strength building and stretching technique. These are just a few of Joseph Pilates’ stunning contributions to the practice and science of fitness.
What Is the Core
I believe his greatest contribution was the discovery that there are three muscle groups virtually ignored by any other kind of exercise – the inner abdominals, inner obliques, and the iliopsoas. He also found that when these muscle groups are strengthened everything changes from simple everyday activities of walking, sitting, and climbing stairs to athletic and artistic performance. These muscles as well as all the others in the center of the body – outer abs, outer obliques, glutes, and lower back muscles – constitute what we call the ‘core.’ For a look at exactly where these are located here is a short demonstration.
Strengthening all of our muscles rather than overemphasizing one group over another is why Pilates feels so different. Before Pilates there was no such thing as full-body exercise. My teacher, the ‘PilatesElder’ Mary Bowen, confirmed this. Joseph Pilates was the first to see the importance of a complete exercise program that worked the entire body. And he didn’t stop there.
He concluded that the whole being needs to be strengthened and revitalized so he added mind training to his method, building consciousness as we build muscle. All our muscles working together with awareness creates an unparalleled stability and balance without bulky muscles and unnecessary weight. This is core strength. This is why Pilates’ practitioners feel taller and look graceful and effortless even in simple everyday movements. Each and every exercise in the Pilates method works the core without neglecting the rest of the body or the mind.
The Core and the Mat
Pilates is actually two different exercise programs – the mat exercises that use your own body for resistance, and exercises with special equipment. The mat exercise program came first and machinery came later for those with special needs who couldn’t do the mat exercises. Because the mat program needs no equipment or gym, it’s incredibly convenient and accessible, even though Pilates with equipment is more popular.
Why Core Pilates Is So Popular
Professional dancers were the first to recognize the genius of Pilates, whose exercises dramatically healed their injuries and extended their careers. Now elite athletes from every profession including golf, hockey, basketball, tennis, and football include Pilates in their conditioning programs. The professional golfer Rory McIlroy calls Pilates his “long drive secret.”
That’s core Pilates in a nutshell. Try it today with free lessons for beginners from one of today’s most experienced Pilates instructors. Just sign up in the box at the right.
About the Author
Bob Hannum is the author of Pilates ebooks and videos including The Ultimate Book of Pilates Mat Exercises and, most recently, High Intensity Pilates.