Powerful Core Means Ab Strength – Back Support & More

You hear about the core all the time – but what is it actually?

The core, originally called the “powerhouse” by Joseph Pilates, is a group of deep muscles connecting the lower frame of the body, the pelvis, with the upper frame, the rib-cage. Together they support the spine.

The deepest and most important muscle is the transversus abdominus (‘trans’ – across and ‘versus’ – to turn). It originates on the inside of the spinal cord between the pelvis and rib-cage, encircling your organs like a girdle. In front, it stretches from the sternum (breast bone) down to the pubic bone. Imagine a huge superman (or superwoman) belt. The job of the transversus muscle is to stabilize your pelvis.

This is the key muscle you want to identify and learn to use.

Three other stomach muscles are layered on top; the two sets of obliques, or ‘angle’ muscles and the rectus or ’six pack’ muscles. These muscles weave into the transversus. So, when you learn to properly use the transversus, all four muscles work together to 4x your core strength.

These core muscles support your back and give you power to move your body through space. You see this demonstrated beautifully with an Olympic gymnast, aerialist or dancer. However, anyone who wants to move their body through space, i.e. walk, crawl, run, etc. will improve strength and posture by using this muscle. And, as a bonus, it will flatten your tummy.

So, how do you find the transversus abdominus?

Note: The arms are shown up in the air so you can see the torso clearly. Arms will be by your sides on the mat during the exercise.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor.
  • Breathe into your back through your nose and then slowly exhale out our mouth allowing the stomach to ‘sink’ towards your spine as if to lightly kiss it.
  • Now engage your pelvic floor muscles by gently lifting them up as if you are trying to stop yourself from peeing.
  • Feel the ‘wrap’ of the muscles deep around your waist. That wrapping sensation around your waist is your transversus muscle tightening.
  • Drill finding and engaging this muscle while laying on your back, sitting, walking or doing any exercise. Know and use this muscle. This is your first step towards your powerful core – your powerhouse.

Over to you.


How to Find Your Correct Sitting Posture

Understanding your body is an important part of learning Pilates.  For this demonstration, sit up tall in with your head, shoulders and rib cage directly over your hips.  If you do this against a wall, you should feel your hips, mid-back and head stacked in a line against the wall.  Now, wiggle around and feel the bones in your seat. In Pilates, these are referred to as your ‘sitz bones’.

First, let’s look at incorrect sitting posture.

Moving away from the wall for this next part, lean your body back of your sitz bones and feel as if you are falling backwards.  This is incorrect posture.

Now lean your torso forward of your sitz bones and feel that your whole upper body is forward of your sitz bones.  This is also incorrect posture.

Now sit directly on top of your sitz bones again, with your rib cage, shoulders and head stacked directly on top of each over your sitz bones.  If you look into a mirror from the side, they will all be in one line.  This is correct posture!

So why is it so hard to stay in that posture?  This is where Pilates comes in. Using Pilates, you strengthen the muscles of the core creating stability.  From there, you work inside-out strengthening small muscles around your joints and then moving outward to larger muscle groups.  All the while, you are lengthening and balancing the muscles in proper alignment to your newly stable core.

In the end are terrific gains: strength, flexibility and control.

A New Tip to Help Your Posture

If you sit a lot sometimes your lower back and your neck can hurt. You can correct that by adjusting the position of your pelvis.

First, notice how if you are sitting right on top of the ‘sitz bones’; the two bones of your butt. If you tend to sit forward of these bones, it arches your lower back creating pressure there. But if you tilt your pelvis back a bit you will find yourself sitting up nice and straight and your stomach engages to support your back. This will correct the overarch in your low back.

Some people sit forward when they get excited or focused into the computer or a book, etc, or when they are trying to sit up really tall. You actually want to pull your stomach in gently and sit back right on the sitzbones.

If that doesn’t take the pressure off the lower back then you can gently tuck the pelvis under (curling the tailbone slightly under) to support the lower back a bit more. This takes pressure off the neck and shoulders.

Happy sitting! 🙂

Feet Hurt? Knees Hurt?

Today I did a posture evaluation on a gentleman who came to see me because his knees hurt. Looking at his posture, I discovered that he hyper extends (extends beyond straight) both knees and rolls in on his feet, dropping his arches so his feet flatten. Sound familiar?

We are correcting this by getting him to soften his knees when standing so he isn’t ‘locking his knees backwards’ or hyper-extending them. We are building his core strength through the Pilates basics to stabilize his pelvis and give him the power to maintain an upright posture. We are also strengthening the arches of his feet.

Dropped arches can create various problems: lower back pain, knee pain, hip pain, and foot pain.

Here is a simple exercise to do to build up your arches:

Place a hand towel flat on the floor. Standing or sitting, grab one end of the towel with your toes and pull it up and under your foot using your toes and the arch of your foot. ‘Walk’ the whole towel under your foot, one ‘grab’ at a time. Then do the other foot. Then repeat both feet. Do this exercise 2x per day. It will greatly strengthen your feet!

Your body is designed to walk from heel to toe: heel first, then rolling slightly towards the outside, and then centered across the ball of your foot. Lastly, you push off with your toes driving the body forward as you repeat the same process on your other foot. When your arches are ‘dropped’ you roll to the inside of your foot putting stress on the knee joint. This is no bueno! Your knee is the ‘stabilizer’ between your ankle and hip. You want it to be able to do it’s job!

Through Pilates, you align your body and build the strength, flexibility and muscular balance to move efficiently and pain free.

What is Your Purpose for Exercise?

When you go to exercise it is ideal to go in having an idea of what you want to accomplish. This is also true when you are going to see a Pilates instructor.

How do you want your body to further assist you in your life? Do you want to rehabilitate an injury? Eliminate discomfort and pain? Improve your posture? Get stronger, leaner, taller? Gain more control, more coordination, more grace?

Your stated purpose will drive your program. A good instructor will do an interview, and discover what you need and want or what problem you are trying to solve. Then a posture evaluation would be done to look at your body’s alignment. “Alignment” means the “lining-up” or not, of your skeletal structure from top to bottom, side to side. Your body is designed to be symmetrical.

I have had a number of athletic men coming to me who have injured themselves over the years with old workout styles and methods that use to make them strong. Despite using lighter weights or more stretching, these guys experienced the back getting tweaked or going out completely, shoulder discomfort and injury or painful knees or feet and more. All of these problems interfere with their sport, their work and their play.

Well, that is completely unacceptable!

Doing a posture evaluation, I can discover any misalignment between your head placement, shoulders, hips, knees and feet. Also, any rotation through the rib cage or hips can create pressure in other areas of the body; knees, feet or neck and shoulders, leading to discomfort and pain.

Next a program is designed to correct this misalignment from the inside out; from the deeper stabilizing core muscles outward. Weaker muscles are strengthened and tighter, overused muscles are lengthened to regain muscular balance.

Using the Pilates equipment, the body is retrained to work synergistically (working together to increase the effect). In other words, the opposing muscles are retrained to support each other in a balanced manner. This creates good form, more flexibility, agility and coordination. This is exactly how the body is designed to work.

Through correct Pilates programming, one “trains out” the bad habits and patterns and “grooves in” correct ones, rehabilitating muscles along the way.

Makes sense?

Below, Bryan Russell, a water polo player whose career was cut short due to shoulder injuries and resultant surgery, shows off his newly ‘realigned’ upper body form.     (See his success story.)