What is Pilates?
Pilates is a fitness system developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century. It consists of low-impact exercises to improve flexibility, muscular strength and endurance. Proper postural alignment, core strength and muscle balance are key to Pilates.
If you’ve done Pilates before, you’ll know it’s excellent for building core strength. In fact, the core is the foundation of all Pilates movements, getting you to activate the deep muscles of your midsection.
“The basic premise with the core and Pilates is that you need the core to move your body efficiently,” says physiotherapist and certified Pilates teacher, Adefemi A. Betiku. “We’re constantly, with every single movement, cueing clients to activate the deep core muscles.”
Throughout a Pilates session, you focus on working these muscles the entire time, and that has some powerful advantages to your daily life.
What is the core?
Think of your core as a house, Betiku says. Your transverse abdominis and deep abdominal muscles are like the walls of the house. Your diaphragm, the muscle you activate when breathing is the roof. Your pelvic floor muscles are, you guessed it, the floor. You can consider your glutes the foundation of the house, Betiku says.
Add a muscle called lumbar multifidus (it supports the spine) to the list of deep core muscles; think of it like the back wall of the house. Some say the internal obliques belong to this group of intrinsic muscles. They’re the sides of the house, if you will.
Pilates works all of these muscles.
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The benefits of Pilates core exercises
While you might typically turn to crunches, sit-ups, or bicycles to work the abs, these exercises primarily target the six-pack muscles (also known as the rectus abdominis). Pilates, on the other hand, gets down deeper into your middle to help you strengthen and stabilise your centre.
That’s why the practice stands out from other forms of movement, says physiotherapist and Pilates instructor Melanie Carminati. “Pilates is different than traditional core work because it’s focused on targeting these deep stabilising muscles, which is important for spine and organ health and overall vitality and quality of life,” she says. The practise also features a mindfulness element, bringing awareness to the breath and body during the moves, she adds.
People with weaker transverse abdominis muscles tend to experience low back pain, Betiku says. But because Pilates targets these deep muscles, it can help you stay ache-free.