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Our core is the primary powerhouse of the moving body. And yet, for the general population, it is one of the most under-worked and weakest muscle groups. Why is this? And how do we fix it?
The answer is simple. Pilates.
Pilates is a series of movements, developed in the 1920s, which focuses on developing flexibility, strength, posture, balance, and mind-body connection.
Pilates is great for strengthening our core, which is important because our core provides essential support to the spine and pelvic area, two major muscle groups responsible for our primary athletic movement.
As a pilates instructor, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “How can I get a six pack?” To set the record straight, this is not just what Pilates is about. Yes, over time Pilates will give you a defined waistline and flatter stomach, but the purpose of pilates is really to encourage full range of movement, and strength in the body’s core foundation.
Pilates can be helpful for just about anyone, even footballers like my boyfriend, James. The stop/start running, heavy hits and limited recovery time, has taken a heavy toll on his body and he has seen a huge amount of rehabilitation and relief from practicing Pilates. With time, and focused core strength movements, James has seen significant improvement in his core strength and general health.
The five simple Pilates exercises below are a great foundation for improving your core strength. And the best part is, it will take you no longer than 10 mins to complete, with no equipment required!
1. Bird Dog Crunch - Start on the floor on all fours, hands directly underneath your shoulders, hips above you knees. Extend your arm straight out in front of you at shoulder height, while simultaneously lifting your left leg and extending it back. Bring your left leg to touch your right elbow under your stomach, then extend your leg and arm out again. Repeat, making sure you body is in a straight line from fingertips to toes. 10 X repetitions (each side) 3 X sets
2. Down Dog Tap – Starting in downward dog position. Take your right hand off the floor and reach and tap your left ankle. Don’t stress if you can’t reach it, so long as you can feel your abs activating. 10 X repetitions (each side) 3 X sets
3. Seated Leg Lifts – It may sound easy, but don’t be fooled. Start by sitting on the floor, legs extended straight out in front of you. Activate your core and lean back slightly so you can place your hands on either side of your glutes. Inhale and lift one leg six inches off the ground, hold for five – ten seconds, and then slowly place it back down. Repeat with the other leg. 10 X repetitions (each side) 3 X sets
4. Warrior Balance - Stand on your right foot and lift your left knee to hip height in front of your body. Reach your torso forward as you extend your left leg behind you. Be sure to keep your standing leg slightly bent as your torso becomes parallel to the floor. Use your arms to help balance you. Repeat on the opposite side. 10 X repetitions (each side) 3 X sets
5. Reverse Lunge with Front Twist - Standing feet hip-width apart. Take a decent step back with your right foot and bent knees to lower into a lunge while twisting your torso to the left. Stand, switch sides, and repeat. 10 X repetitions (each side) 3 X sets
These exercises will help to revive your body’s natural alignment and allow the mind, soul and body to find their natural connection and flow. The best part is that these movements can be done just about anywhere; at home, in the park or even at the workplace (if you have a yoga mat). By incorporating core movements such as the ones above you’ll be saying hello to a stronger core and pelvic floor. Remember, any movement is good movement and I must warn you, Pilates is quite an addictive form of exercise!
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Photos: Nightingale Films