If you attend Pilates classes and practice the exercises, you’ll know that it’s all about understanding and harnessing the strength and power that comes from our core (the torso area of the body). This helps us to function well in everyday life, when we’re walking and sitting and also in our sporting activities.
Our core muscles are the deeper, smaller muscles of the torso and include the Transversus abdominals, diaphragm and pelvic floor. You might have been told to “engage your core” in a class and the instructor has described how it should feel. Here’s our take:
- Prepare by lying on your back with the knees bent, a cushion under your head as well as one in between the knees.
- Inhale through the nose
- As you exhale through a relaxed mouth imagine you are drawing in a tight corset around your middle or zipping up a skinny pair of jeans, pulling in and up the internal muscle of the pelvic floor
- You should do this without tightening the glutes (bottom) muscles or pushing your lower back into the floor – a good visual is to imagine you are stopping yourself taking a pee!
- As you breathe the diaphragm works like a parachute which opens as you inhale, and as you exhale the parachute deflates
- Visualise this corset around your torso, drawing in at the same level for each breath, while keeping the rest of your body relaxed
The technique is vitally important in your Pilates classes and can also really relax you. When you’re in the car, at your desk or walking to somewhere, try practicing it for a few minutes at least once a day.
The movement we’ve described is a very subtle and challenging one and may not come naturally for a little while. What it will help do is for you to be more aware of the way your body works – you’ll gradually improve your strength and flexibility over time and create a stronger pelvic floor.
The importance of the pelvic floor cannot be underestimated for either women or men. Long-believed to be really only relevant for women – especially those pregnant, in the first year after the birth or at menopausal stage – we now know that men really benefit from strengthening it too, in part to prevent urinary weaknesses. It’s also recommended that men who have undergone prostate surgery should practice pelvic floor exercises, confirmed by worldwide experts at the International Consultation on Incontinence in July 2008.
Lastly, athletes like gymnasts, runners and those who play ball sports, can be at risk of developing pelvic floor, problems because of the frequent downward pressure that their activities place on their bodies. If you’re looking for a list of pelvic floor exercises to do at home, we’ve recommend this handy list.
If you’d like learn how to engage your core and work your pelvic floor, we run a variety of Pilates classes at our studios in Farnham (in Wrecclesham and at our Express Studio inside Sweaty Betty) and in Hampton Wick, so please contact us.