Want A Strong Core? Try These Moves
Whether you’re aiming for visible abs or want to strengthen your core for better posture and improved flexibility, Pilates is one of the best exercises that you can do for overall health. Pilates instructor, Zoya Holland, recommends some moves that you can incorporate into your daily routine
Core-strengthening is, hands down, one of the best exercises you can do to improve overall fitness. Having a strong core helps to keep your body balanced, allowing you to maintain proper posture and form during exercise. It also keeps your spine in a stable position, thus keeping it safe from potential injury.
There are many ways to build your core, but adding Pilates moves into your daily routine is a surefire way to engage your core muscles on the next level!
“A typical Pilates class actually includes an overall body workout,” shares Pilates instructor, Zoya Holland, who teaches at The Yoga School.
“We start with small joint movements, progressing to compound exercises including push ups, planks, back extensions, twists, shoulder rotations, and leg strengthening exercises,” says Zoya, who’s a specialist in Mat Based, Orthopaedic, and Pre and Post-natal Pilates.
“I’m a believer in variety,” she adds with a smile. Zoya often includes the use of Bender balls, stretch bands, loop bands, and foam rollers during her classes. “The use of equipment in my mat-based classes varies according to the goals of that particular session,” she explains. “Pilates classes can be differentiated by benefits – for instance, it can be sports specific or orthopaedic-related. I also tailor my classes according to the experience levels of my students, so some classes are conducted with solely body weight exercises.”
During a Pilates class, your core is consistently engaged regardless of whether you’re working on a core-focused move or a workout method that strengthens surrounding muscle groups. “There’s always a strong focus on the wide belt of inner unit muscles around the trunk and the back of the shoulders known as the “core”, but the superficial outer unit also gets targeted with stronger support from within,” Zoya highlights.
You are only as young as your spine is flexible.
– Joseph Pilates
Chiropractors often encourage patients who want to work towards better health and mobility to exercise, and many, like Dr Melanie Tjahaja, who practices at One Spine Chiropractic, recommend Pilates for strength-building, improved flexibility, and better mobility.
One of the key reasons why Pilates and chiropractic care go hand in hand perfectly is because these complementary therapies work towards similar objectives – Pilates focuses on strength building from the core and helps keep your spine in correct alignment. Emphasis is placed on what chiropractors term as “neutral spine alignment”, which refers to the anatomically correct alignment of the spine as the main focus on where strength is built.
“Optimal spinal positioning allows for minimal loading on every joint in our body,” explains Dr Melanie. “This helps to avoid conditions such as cervical and lumbar lordosis (excessive inward curvature of the spine), and thoracic kyphosis (an exaggerated, forward rounding of the back) from the lateral view.” Optimal spinal positioning develops the awareness of our posture, how we sit and how we stand. “It helps us to maintain a straight spine when viewed from the front,” she adds.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF PILATES
Many of us assume that the core is just about abdominal muscles or having a “6-pack”, but the term actually refers to all the muscles in and around the area of the abdominals and back. This comprises the rectus abdominis, the transverse abdominals, the obliques, the low back extensors, and the glute muscles. Fundamentally speaking, the core involves pretty much every part of your torso except your head, arms, and legs.
The Pilates system focuses on building strength from the core, which effectively works up to improved overall fitness. To help you reap the core-strengthening benefits of Pilates, Zoya recommends some of the method’s best moves that target your midsection:
Benefits: Improved posture, shoulder and hip stability and strength.
Execution: Come to all fours in neutral spine position, with your hands placed under your shoulders, and knees placed under your hips. Take a deep breath in and on exhale, lengthen and lift a pair of opposite arm and leg until they are levelled with your shoulders and hips. Breathe in, and on exhale, return to your original position. Switch sides.
Tip: Focus on moving simultaneously, breathing, and keeping your hips and shoulders stable.
Benefits: Tones and strengthens the abdominals, connects inner and outer core, improves control of pelvic floor muscles
Execution: From a seated neutral position, stretch your arms forward, relax the shoulders, and lean back, keeping the spine long. Breathe in, and on exhale, lift one leg up keeping the knee bent. Breathe in again and follow with the other leg on exhale. Bring both knees closer to your chest. Now try straightening your legs, whilst maintaining a steady flow of breath. When you’re ready to come out of the poste, lower your legs gently, one at a time.
Tip: This is a front-of-core exercise so if you’re feeling it in the back, bring one foot down and focus on drawing your belly button to the spine. Maintain a good flow of breath and keep squeezing your knees and chest towards each other. If you have tight hamstrings and would like to straighten your legs, use a stretch band to help you get into position.
Benefits: Strengthens the waist, shoulders and wrists, mobilises the hips, and tones the legs
Execution: From the all fours position, bring your right leg out to the side and transfer the weight to your right knee and right wrist. Once stable, lift the left leg until it is levelled with the hip. Breathe in, and on exhale, kick the left leg forwards and back in a controlled motion, minimising any movement in the torso. After a few breaths, change sides.
Tip: For better stability, make sure that your wrists are positioned strictly under the shoulders. If you’re up for a challenge, keep the moving leg lifted while you raise your top arm towards the ceiling or overhead.