How to activate your Deep Core muscles through Pilates

How to activate your Deep Core muscles

If you’re looking for a practice that can help with feeling your deep core muscles, as well as to help with low back pain, and to create general overall body awareness, then Pilates might be for you. Along with learning about your optimal posture, and about how your body moves and works, you’ll also feel more connected to your body-how amazing is that!

To give you a little bit of an anatomy background: you will hear a lot of the term ‘deep core muscles’ in a Pilates class or session. When we talk about activating our deep core muscles, we mainly talk about the engagement of a muscle called Transversus Abdominus, TA for short, which is a local stabilizer muscle. Local stabilizers control segmental motion and neutral joint position.

Contraction of muscles such as the TA produces little or no change in muscle length, so there is no range of motion, but they are super important for finding our most optimal position in terms of our awareness and stability in the body.

Once the patient learns to activate TA, (along with it the Pelvic Floor, and Multifidus, which is located at the back of the body, working together with the TA to stabilize), we can move on to practice recruiting it in many different positions and exercises:  which will include laying on your back and front, standing, squatting, lifting, etc.

In Pilates breath is also very important, and one of the main ways we can activate our TA is through breathing and awareness, mind to muscle–there’s a reason why Pilates is also called ‘mindful movement’.

There are two ways in Pilates to find your deep core; either through a neutral placement of the pelvis, or in an imprinted placement of the pelvis. It’s suggested to work in neutral first, to see if the connection can be made, and then move to an imprinted position if the former isn’t activating.  In Pilates exercises, there are also times when we use neutral and imprint. Here’s the description of both positions:

Neutral Placement: Maintains the natural curve of the lower back. This is the most stable and optimal shock-absorbing position for your back. Your pelvis should be in a comfortable position, no ‘intentional arching’. We work in Neutral mostly during Closed Kinetic Chain exercises, meaning that either the legs or arms are on the mat.

Imprinted Position: The lower back is gently moving toward the mat. Avoid pressing your lower back all the way into the floor, or tilting the pelvis too far by overusing the abs or glutes. The space between the lower back and the mat is different for everyone, so we always look at the body as whole, rather than only at the pelvic areaWe work mainly in an imprinted position during Open Kinetic Chain exercises when legs AND arms are lifted off the mat.

These Pilates-based exercises/cues, help you ‘find the TA muscle’ and activate it properly:

Lie on your back in a neutral posture/pelvis, (gentle curve in your low back). Breathe in to prepare. Imagine a string that connects the inside of your two front bones.  Exhale the breath through a gently pursed lip (like you’re trying to blow out a candle) and think about connecting the muscle along this line, as if you’re tying the string together at the centre of your belly.

Gently contract your pelvic floor by drawing the muscles from behind your pubic bone to your tail bone and the left and right sides of your pelvic floor together, the sensation is that you can pick up a tissue with your pelvic floor.

Inhale, release everything slightly, and then on the next exhale, contract again. Repeat 4 -8 times.

If you would like to learn more about Pilates, and how the specific exercises can help you engage your deep core, and therefore creating awareness and strength…book in to see Joanna.