So you’d like to work on your core?
What exactly do you mean by that? Does it mean you have a beer gut and you’d like to get rid of it? Or does it mean you spend the majority of your working day slumped over a computer and you are starting to get a curved spine or back pain? We hear a lot of people say they’d like to work on their core but I feel like what they are actually saying is that they’d like to be a bit slimmer around the middle and have better posture – how about you?
What is the core?
The main function of the core is trunk stability. Rather than acting as a prime mover, it acts mostly to stabilize and assist force transfer. We don’t want you to get working your core confused with working your rectus abdominus, (abs/6-pack muscles) which are part of the exterior musculature that most people train. Many of our ‘core’ muscles lie deeper and include the transverse abdominus, multifidus, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles.
Core stability is important to protect the spine and surrounding musculature from injury in both static and dynamic movements which can include running, performing Olympic lifts, or pulling something out from the back of the fridge while keeping your back safe. So core training is not just about maintaining a neutral spine and holding a prone position for as long as you can (I think the record was a plank for 5 hours recently!) it also includes functional movements like dead-lifts, overhead squats, and push-ups.
Functional training of your core should include three types of training:
1. Static exercises such as planks in all directions
2. Dynamic, rotational type training
3. Traditional flexion and extension exercises such as crunches (to a lesser extent).
Where does Pilates fit into all this?
Pilates covers most of the above but doesn’t include the ‘functional’ movements I mentioned, which is when we see the core in action. Remember it’s our core that helps with the force transfer when we lift weights, so a strong core means we can lift heavier! (And that’s what I want.) Here is a rather neat definition of Pilates: Pilates is a mind-body exercise that requires core stability, strength, and flexibility, and attention to muscle control, posture, and breathing. Exercises can be mat-based, or involve the use of specialised equipment. Traditional Pilates principles of centering, concentration, control, precision, flow, and breathing may be relevant to contemporary Pilates exercise. (Wells, Kolt, and Bialocerkowski (2012))
I would encourage people to give Pilates a go at Hiscoes on Tuesdays 5.30pm, Wed 7.15pm or Sat 8am, as you will find some of the exercises help you to think about engaging your core when you are doing other stuff, both in and out of the gym.
If you’re not much of a group person and would rather train on your own – here’s a good core workout for you.
1. Bear Walk 5x across the room and back
2. Feet Elevated Push-up 6 x 6 (place feet on bench or in TRX, beginners perform usual push-ups with strict form)
3. Plank-side plank-plank 3mins total – move from regular plank to side at whatever intervals you like but stay up (beginners perform on knees)
4. Deadlift 3 x 10 (If you don’t know how to do a deadlift yet – see a Hiscoes trainer and find out)
5. Toes-to-bar (hanging leg raises or beginners lying knee raises) 4 x 8