How can a few exercises on the mat make me a better runner or reduce my golf handicap? Joseph Pilates (founder of Pilates) said that the core is the powerhouse of the body and its true. When the core, abdominals, back, gluteal muscles are strong we learn to use these
muscles in other forms of exercise and the power generates into your whole body. As well as having a strong core, Pilates will give you a greater lung capacity and teach you how to breathe more efficiently during exercise which will in turn allow your body to pump more in to the muscles giving you more energy and O2 into your muscles.
Pilates is like anything else in life, you get out what you put in. If you went for a walk or a run just once a week you wouldn’t expect to get very fit or suddenly be able to run a marathon!. It’s the same with Pilates, to create a strong core and flexible spine it will require effort and consistency.
Why you should include core exercises into your fitness regime.
We have all heard that core exercises are good to include in your workout and here is why. When we train the core, that is the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen, we are strengthening them and also teaching them to work together. This leads to increased balance and stability with numerous benefits whether just in your daily life or when you are running or weight lifting.
Increased Lung capacity
Pilates promotes breathing in a way that uses up as much space in the lungs as is possible which increases lung capacity in the long term.
Many Pilates exercises can be advanced to be very demanding such as ‘The 100’ which elevates the heart rate and makes the body work harder and breathe harder We breathe laterally into the ribs which makes the ribs expand and makes it easier to fill up the lungs with air. This can only be a good thing, right?
Pilates pays particular attention to correct body alignment so your feet are under the knees and the knees are placed under the hips. Poor posture creates misalignment in the body which can cause chronic pain leading to injuries and can prevent people from doing the things they enjoy. In every Pilates exercise, good posture and alignment are critical and keeping a strong position with the back which in Pilates we call neutral spine.
Better sleep, and improved concentration
During each Pilates exercise there are four key things to think about: breathing, alignment, maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis co-ordination by engaging the core muscles, and how to perform the specific exercise. That’s a lot to think
about all at once and requires a high level of concentration to ensure the exercise is performed correctly. For instance, if you take your mind off engaging the core the pelvis tilts and the back may move out of a neutral position which places pressure on the lower back and the core may no longer be able to do its job. The mental concentration combined with the physical exercise using practically all the muscles in your body (not just the core) is very tiring but also relaxing which promotes a good night’s sleep.
When you lift free weights like kettlebells or dumbbells your back is usually unsupported meaning you must use your core to stabilise and prevent your trunk from moving.
Running and Walking
We know we use the legs and arms for running but having a stronger core will have a significant positive impact on your running, stronger core muscles = a stronger, faster and more efficient runner. Weak core muscles tire easily and have less endurance which leaves the body vulnerable and more prone to injury.
Your alignment (hip, knee, feet in a straight line) is better which means the muscles and the bones are able to work at their full strength as everything is where it should be.
Pilates can help golfers develop a more powerful and accurate swing which originates from good core strength but also from rotational flexibility in the hips and spine and Pilates also places a lot of emphasis on these movements.
Pilates has been proven to prevent injuries and increase recovery caused by the repetitive movement and overuse on certain muscles which is the nature of the sport.
Pilates is becoming increasingly popular with tennis and squash players at all levels, to prevent injury and to improve recovery and increase flexibility in the spine. Developing a strong core also enhances performance and increases power. Similar to golf, racket sports can cause a muscle imbalance as one side of the body is used more than the other and Pilates works to correct that imbalance.
So, whatever sport or physical activity you are in to somehow the core is involved. There is a lot more to Pilates than just rolling around on the mat and doing a few stretches.
Joanna Boyes, Nidderdale Pilates and Fitness