It's been the biggest thing in exercise for nearly 20 years now. I know this because I was on the very first Body Control Pilates mat training course back in October 1997.
This was just at the time that a load of research was coming out of Queensland University about core control and the world was waking up to ‘switching on the core’. Suddenly every physio was on a course about the importance of the Transversus Abdominus and how vital it was to the causation of low back pain.
However, although your abs are important, they are not the whole story. You have spinal muscles that run parallel to the spine, your buttock muscles (Glutes or Gluteus) and your deep hip muscles – they all contribute to core strength and therefore..Core Control.
You cannot just strengthen in isolation, so a six pack might look great on the beach but ignore the rest as your peril because you will cause misalignment that will create it own problems.
Working out a balanced fitness routine will not only improve your core but allow you to improve so much more. It can even improve the stress on your neck and shoulders.
A is for Alignment
So many of us sit for hours and with our arms in front of us, typing, driving, texting, tablets..the list goes on. All of which increasing puts strain on our shoulders, neck and upper back. So the 6 pack is not going to help with any of this.
But the core can.
With a strong centre, you can hold yourself in good alignment. Your hips and bum along with your ab wall can do their job of holding your spine in the right position and totally takes the strain off the upper spine/neck and shoulders.
You are not hopping from leg to leg trying to find a pain free place because your poor muscles are lacking stamina to hold you upright and your arms can hang in natural alignment because they are not holding the weight of your arms.
B is for Breathing
The first and last act of life as Joseph Pilates said (yes, a man invented Pilates!).
Shallow breathing also contributes to poor posture and holding your breath when exercising is common to.
A simple way to improve your breath control is when you are sitting at a traffic light, breath in wide to the sides and back of your ribcage and feel the back ribs expand into your car seat.
Do this as the same time as you keep your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears. An easy way to do it..for those of you with a bra, breathe right around to the hooks at the back and not into the cups at the front! For those of you without one..pretend!
It’s a great stress reliever too, much needed in today’s world. So, take moment to count the breath, do a slow inhale for 5 counts and an even slower exhale or 7 or 8 counts.
If you can’t do that to start with, just do what you can, its not a competition, just make your exhale longer than your inhale, it’s as easy as that. It’s also the perfect way to start any kind of mindfulness training or meditation.
Our minds are so busy and race away faster than Lewis Hamilton on the starting grid. So, counting the breathe in and out is a simple way to try and be ‘in the moment’ and slow down your thoughts.
Even when you find yourself distracted, there is no need to beat yourself up, just start counting again.
C is for Centre or Core or Control or Core Control.
Focussed exercise to strengthen your core are quite easy to do. Many of them won’t give you ‘the burn’ and can be thought of as a waste of time.
But as already discussed, if the core is not supporting you, you will find it hard/uncomfortable/downright painful to spend any amount of time standing.
10 minutes a day with your mind fully engaged in performing the exercise will see a great improvement in the quality of your muscles and their stamina and endurance.
Athletes do them every day to improve their performance, you need them just for daily living.
It doesn’t matter if you are a footballer, dancer or office worker, we ALL need our body healthy to do our job and pay our bills.
Weekly or Daily, when should you exercise?
To improve core control..daily. In the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa, you could have done your daily core routine. It’s a simple as that.
Add to that, using stairs more, standing more, sitting less, all will contribute to improving your spinal and joint health. Yes, your body might not like at first, but you will get stronger.
Some core exercises challenge you to keep your pelvis and spine still whilst limbs move, like a leg slide or a knee drop, some exercises move your spine and pelvis.
Your main focus is to listen to your body as you do them, get to know what it's up to, how it cheats, if things move when they are supposed to be still. The more you do the better you get..no surprise there.
You need to choose exercises that work your abdominals, your back muscles, your bum muscles. Ab curls, Ob curls, squats, lunges, - planks could be added at some point, not too soon. Along with stretches to open the chest and the hips and the spine.
It’s all about balance.
You don't need to go mad, especially if you are carrying a few injuries or a dodgy back. It can be a really gentle start, getting the spine and your joints moving without causing more problems. But move you must unless you want to seize up altogether. Go find a really good Pilates class with a teacher who understands teaching not instructing. Your spine will thank you many times over!