If you’re doing Pilates there’s a fair chance that you’re wanting to strengthen your core muscles. The two go hand in hand due to the big focus on centering and engaging the deep abdominals and pelvic floor while practising Pilates. Before we get into my 5 favourite exercises to build a strong core, I want to give you a quick overview of the anatomy and function of these muscles to help deepen your understanding of your ‘core’.
The ‘core’ refers to a group of muscles that are responsible for keeping your trunk (or your torso) stable while you move your body. It depends who you ask, but in general, we are referring to:
- Your deepest abdominal muscle; Transverse Abdominus (TA)
- Your pelvic floor muscles (PF)
I’d also like to give a special mention to a few other muscle groups that play a big part in trunk stability, but aren’t always considered as part of the ‘core’:
- Your internal and external oblique abdominal muscles
- Your Diaphragm
- Your Gluteal muscles
Your trunk moves in a few different ways, it rotates left and right, flexes forwards, extends backwards and side flexes left and right. The combination of the muscles above create these movements and also importantly, keep the trunk still while other parts of your body move.
Ok, we got through all that, so now, here are my top 5 exercises for a stronger core:
This is a great way to learn how to engage your TA and pelvic floor in a neutral spine position. Think of drawing your ribs down towards your hips, sliding your two pelvis bones towards each other and flattening your lower belly. There are so many variations of table-top, you can make this exercise as beginner or advanced as you like. Add toe taps, leg extensions or a chest lift to progress this exercise and really challenge your core.
A plank done well is a great way to train trunk stability and to work on the endurance of your core muscles. Aim to get your shoulders, hips and heels all in one long line and focus on drawing your ribs and hips towards each other. This is a bracing exercise, but you can add hip dips, side taps, mountain climbers, leg lifts or shoulder taps to make it more dynamic.
3. Side plank
Perfecting your side plank will strengthen your oblique muscles as well as your side glutes! Be strong around your shoulder, lift your rib cage away from the mat before you raise your hips. Try not to tip forward or backwards and tuck your tailbone in to avoid arching your back. Add hip dips, thread the needle, or knee bends to make your core work even harder.
4. Roll down
I love this exercise for teaching abdominal control in spine flexion. Really roll your pubic bone towards your belly button and think of hollowing out your stomach to get your abdominals working hard. It can take a few goes to get the hang of this exercise, but once you do you will really feel your core doing the work.
5. 4 Point Kneeling
This is such a quintessential Pilates position, but it really takes focus to get the most out of any exercises in this pose. Keep your shoulders square and your pelvis level, if you are lifting a leg, keep the stabilising thigh completely vertical. If you maintain good alignment, you will really work your core muscles while you add any variations to this position. Try knee hover or arm and leg extensions to take this exercise to another level.
Of course, there are so many ways to strengthen your core, and just about anything you do in Pilates will have some focus on these muscles. Choosing just 5 was a difficult task for me as I do love so many Pilates exercises, but these are the exercises I find myself going back to time and time again because they are just so effective!
If you’re wanting to really focus on your core strength, here are 5 classes I recommend on Our Pilates: