Discover what’s you can do to improve the effectiveness of your core training workouts by targeting these 6 key components during your workouts.
Maximize core training benefits to support good functional movement habits and improve strength and stability for optimal whole-body health.
ONE: Standing and Seated Posture with Better Breathing
Learn to strengthen and improve the action of the Diaphragm to decompress, and compress the spine. This helps lift the ribs up off the hips so the rest of the Core muscles have room to move. Good Pilates posterior-lateral breathing techniques will assist in re-training the lungs and diaphragm to support the Core.
TWO: Find and Engage the Pelvic Floor
Getting proper Pelvic Floor support is CRITICAL to effective Core Training! Doing a Kegel is NOT the correct action to contract the Pelvic Floor muscles for Core Support for exercise & movement. The Pelvic Floor is the foundation of support that allows the breath to lift and lengthen the spine. There are 4 walls to the Pelvic Floor, 2 side walls & a front & back. Different muscles contract to support the front-to-back of the Pelvic Floor, and the Sides of the floor. These muscles should be able to engage all together, and independently to assist with support & movement.
THREE: Improve Movement & Stabilization with Twisting Exercises to Strengthen the Internal & External Obliques
It’s the strength of our Internal and External Oblique muscles that helps define the distance from our ribs to our hips, and truly gives us Core stability and support. When the Obliques fire, the spine should rotate and there are back muscles that assist with this rotary movement.
- If doing an exercise like Criss-Cross in a Pilates Mat Class, the Obliques and Back muscles work to twist the torso.
- If doing an exercise like the One Leg Circle, the Obliques and Back muscles now become stabilizers of the spine and pelvis to allow free movement of the leg.
FOUR: Use the Transverse Abdominals to Support the Front of the Pelvis, Sacrum, and Lumbar Spine
The Transverse Abdominals help hold our contents in our body, and support the spine and pelvis from the front. The lift of these muscles helps lift our pelvis up off our legs to allow free movement of the leg from the hip. (Most people tend to find the lift with their Quads & Hip Flexors – instead of using much (if any) Transverse support.) If you lift your lower Abs up and in, and the pelvis tucks – you’ve used the Rectus muscle to contract and shorten, rather than your Transverse to support.
To practice engaging the Transverse Abdominal muscles, strive to feel the lowest part of the abdominals engage (from the pubic bone and/or 2 inches below the navel.) Feel the muscle pull up, in, and back towards the bottom back ribs – like a low Abdominal smile J. This support can be practiced with standing and seated posture, and is a part of the support needed for a good C-Curve – but it’s not the initiator to scoop the pelvis into a posterior-tilted position.
FIVE: Back Strengthening – Spine Extension
(Erector Spinae muscles)
While the Transverse and Obliques help keep us lifted up through the front of the body, the Spine Extensors and Multifidus keep us lifted up from the back. Our Spine Extensors are the muscles that move the back into extension. Tall, lifted posture requires the work of our extensor muscles to keep gravity from winning when we sit and stand. Typically, or neck extensors and low back are strong, and the Erector Spinae muscles through the middle and upper back are weak. Learning to balance the work of the Spine Extensors through the ENTIRE spine provides improved Core support, and facilitates efficient movement.
*Note: Good old Military Posture – “pinching the blades together to pull your shoulders back and stick your chest out” is not helping to strengthen the weak middle/upper back spine extensors, but instead is overworking the Rhomboids, and reinforcing poor shoulder mechanics which long-term can result in serious shoulder injuries. If the shoulder blades are doing all the moving, the spine will be held in stability. The Pilates Spine Corrector / Arc Barrel Exercises are fabulous for strengthening the Spine Extensors, improving core strength, and helping increase the mobility of the entire spine.
SIX: Back Stability – Multifidus Muscles
Along the back, the Spine Extensors are mobility muscles and the Multifidus are stability muscles. The Multifidus muscles span the full length of the spine and segmentally link the bones together for back support. When you do an exercise like Plank, or a Push-Up, to help keep the back from sagging it involves good core support. Part of the support to stay lifted comes from the Abs, the Spine Extensors work to maintain length, and it’s the Multifidus muscles working for stability that help keep the back bones from sagging.
- Any exercise that involves MOVEMENT of the spine will not involve the Multifidus.
- Any position that involves STABILITY of the spine and the Multifidus muscles are an important part of helping to maintain Core support.
Whether the back is held in a neutral position like a Plank, a held still in a C-Curve position for Pilates Matwork exercises like Rolling Like a Ball, or held in extension for the Advanced Mat exercise the Swan Dive, if the goal is to hold the spine in a stabilized position, the Multifidus muscles need to be activated.
By incorporating exercises that train and target all six of these very important Core support components into your workouts, you can be sure that you are truly making your best effort to strengthen and improve Core stability for balanced muscle development, efficient functional movement, and improved health.
What are your favorite Core Training exercises? They might be from Pilates class, bootcamp, the weight room, or from any sport or fitness training program. Drop a comment below and share an exercise or two that you love to do during your workouts that target these muscle groups for effective core training!