The body is designed to work as a complete unit. If you train to do this, you will have a solid center to create the physical power for each movement. In order to visualize the body as an integrated unit, think of a conductor bringing together all the sections of an orchestra to perform a concerto. Before going to Centering in Pilates, you have to know that Joseph Pilates believed that our abdominal muscles, now known as abs, function as the “powerhouse” for the whole of the body.
Your abs are your center and they initiate every movement. To maintain a strong center you need an equal balance of strength between the abs and the back and it’s necessary in Pilates workouts and routines!
The core muscles
In previous articles about Pilates, We have already referred to the core as consisting of four muscle groups: the TA muscles, the multifidus muscles (back muscles), the pelvic floor muscles, and the diaphragm. Imagine your core as a tree trunk, the core being the solid supporting center of your arms, legs, and head. If you imagine cutting through the tree trunk, the muscles of your body represent the rings of age in the tree.
The global muscles (the rectus abdominus muscle) are on the outside of the trunk. As you move toward the center you’ll find the external oblique muscles, the internal oblique muscles, and finally the TA muscles.
30 percent contraction
Every exercise is controlled or initiated from the contraction of two of the core muscles’, the TA muscles or the pelvic floor. This is because these muscles help to stabilize the body as you move.
For many years, Pilates practitioners would pull in the lower abdominal muscles tighter as the movement became more challenging. Now, however, research has established that this is not the most effective way to work these muscles. Drawing in the abdominal muscles as hard as you can activates the core muscles with what I call 100 percent effort. This tires the muscles quickly, and it does not train them to operate effectively in everyday activities. Research has shown that the most effective way to train them is at 30 percent of their maximum strength. This allows them to be used throughout an hour’s session without causing fatigue. They will also become naturally stronger and support you as you perform your daily activities. Work through the following exercises to help you to find your center.
Pelvic floor and TA muscles
Activate your center either through the TA muscles (shown opposite) or by using the pelvic floor muscles. Research has shown that it is not productive to use both muscles together, so when following your routine, try to activate your center by using only one group of muscles.
Activating the TA muscles
Imagine that you have a belt around your waist and that the abdominal muscles draw in when you tighten it. Use the images on page 29 (stages 1-3) to establish the most efficient level at which to perform the exercises.
Activating the pelvic floor
The pelvic floor runs from the front of the pelvis to the lower spine and supports you like a sling. This is one of the hardest muscles to activate, but when mastered it will be easy to practice wherever you are without anyone knowing. You can activate the pelvic floor muscle by imagining that you are trying to stop your urine in mid-flow.
Imagine that your pelvic floor is the floor of an elevator. As you breathe out, draw up the elevator as far as you can to the tenth floor. Then release this halfway to the fifth floor and then a little farther to the third floor. This is the level of exertion that you want to follow in the program. Continue the exercise with the following pattern: move the elevator to the tenth floor, return to the ground floor, up again to the fifth floor, and back to the ground floor. Finally go up to the third floor and back down. When you do this exercise, you can be sitting or standing—the key is to be comfortable.
ln a standing position, allow your abdominal muscles to relax and form a dome. Don’t push them out. Instead, become aware of how the rest of your body feels as you release these muscles.
As you breathe out, draw in the abdominal muscles as far as you can. Imagine that a belt is being tightened around you, that it will be tightened right up to the last notch. This is what I call 100 percent effort.
Relax the muscles halfway to reach the “fifth notch” on the belt. Think of this as 50 percent effort. Then release them a little more to the “third notch,” or 30 percent effort. This is the level at which to work efficiently throughout your program.
This Pilates breathing exercise, simultaneously works your core muscles, legs, and arms.