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Core and Pilates Blog


What is it? Do I have one? Should I have one? And why doesn’t mine work? Will Pilates save me? And isn’t Pilates just for old grans?

Written by Keryn Legg

At some stage in the last period of time, you will probably have heard about your core – this elusive, mystical concept that gym instructors smile knowingly about (but don’t necessarily know much about). Wait, that’s unkind to gym instructors. I’ll rephrase that to JUST ABOUT EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET WHO HAS ANY EXPERIENCE IN HEALTH CARE! They, be it a doctor, your physio, your PT, a nurse, the guy from the

gym, your coach, maybe even your uncle, will give you that all knowing supercilious look and tell you that to prevent injury or avoid injury or fix your bad back, you need to “strengthen your core”

But wait – what even is your core? What does it do and why does it magically save you from all things sports and life related? And if Pilates really is so good, why has the incidence of lower back pain actually INCREASED since the start of the Pilates revolution in the early 90’s with Madonna in her dodgy leotard?

Joseph Pilates, the god of Pilates and founder of this exercise therapy (and more recently the Sports journals and textbooks of current sports medicine) defined your core as being a combination of your pelvic floor muscles, your diaphragm, your deep abdominals and the long back muscles up your spine – basically the suitcase that holds all of your abdominal organs. Back pain studies showed that when people had hurt their lumbar spine discs there was a delay in response from the short and long back muscles in a movement – thus a movement happened and then afterwards, the muscles fired – a little like a gate crasher to the party that they actually should have planned. So, there was some smart thinking in this – get those muscles firing before you do the movement so as to stabilise the spine before you move. Theory: correct, application: not so much.

Pilates is great. I’ve been teaching it for 15 years now and I genuinely believe in it. But I don’t believe in the idea that my spine, or anyone else’ needs to be stabilised rigidly and supported continually to prevent injury. I believe that the back muscles need to work when they are told too, not after a movement has occurred. It’s a lot like putting the clutch in your car after you have changed gear. So my understanding of Pilates is to get the muscles to work when they need too.

The platform of Pilates is a great foundation from which to work off – chronic lower back pain patients need the multifidi muscles to work and the transversus abdominus to support, but not brace and over work. Likewise, the stabilising muscles of the knee: the vastus medialis obliques and the gluteus medius and tensor fascia latae need to work to before your foot hits the ground when running to avoid medial deviation of the knee and therefore overload of the medial meniscus and patellofemoral joint, thus causing the exciting and ridiculously difficult thing to treat – patellofemoral joint pain. Therefore, the “core” of your knee would be these muscles and getting them to work at the right time and keep working so that by the end of your 5-mile run you aren’t running like Donald Duck.

So the simple answer to the questions

  • yes, you have a core and it probably works pretty well. If you have been to the loo this morning and done some straining, your core has worked and is probably working pretty well. It’s more the sequencing and timing of the core that is important. You need that pelvic floor holding things in at the right time (hint hint)

  • Core is traditionally termed as the suitcase that holds your organs in but is loosely applied to the stabilising muscles around each major joint. The “core” of your shoulder is the rotator cuff, the “core” of your hip is your glute med and iliopsoas muscle, the “core” of your knee is your VMO and glute med.

  • No, Pilates is not going to save you. But neither is Kombucha and matcha green tea. What Pilates will do is hopefully get you to time and sequence your muscles in the right order to prevent aberrant movements and strains.

  • No, Pilates is not for old grans. Although, some of my old grans would totally smoke my athletes on a basic roll up. Pilates is for everyone. We try to group the classes together so that the sports guys have theirs to work more on knee, glute and leg strength. The post operative back patients get specific exercises to help them become more mobile. The pregnant ladies get to focus a little more on the pelvic floor and abdominals.

Happy training and hope to see you at a Pilates class!

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