Foundational Core Strength – The “Warm-Up”
As the building blocks for core stability, always start exercise with the 5 principles below. As you increase the challenge of the exercise, you will most likely need to increase core engagement to maintain proper stability. Below are the pieces that must come together for your foundational core strength.
1) Breathing: Breathing facilitates proper core engagement and decreases tension where it should not be. Lie on your back with knees bent to 90 degrees, arms at your sides with palms facing down. First, focus on your breath. Inhale through the nose feeling the sides and back of your rib cage expand. Exhale through pursed lips as if blowing out a candle. Feel your rib cage gently close. You can also perform this sitting up flexed over your body. 3-5 reps.
2) Pelvic placement: It is important to have stability of the pelvis and lumbar spine in all positions and throughout all movements. Lumbopelvic stability can be maintained in neutral or imprint. In neutral, the natural lumbar curve is present. During imprint, a posterior pelvic tilt into slight lumbar flexion is maintained.
To understand the difference between neutral pelvis and imprint, lie on your back with knees bend and feet hip distance apart. To find neutral, rock your pelvis anteriorly and posteriorly finding the halfway point between these motions. Here, the triangle that makes up your hip bones and pubic bone is parallel to the floor. To achieve imprint, from a neutral position, lightly set your core to draw your pelvis toward your rib cage to where your pubic bone may be slightly higher than your hip bones. Do not squeeze your glutes to achieve this motion. 3-5 reps.
3) Rib cage placement: Proper rib cage positioning is also key to maintaining abdominal engagement all the way up the spine. Lie on your back and maintain the sense of the weight of your ribs resting gently on the floor. Raise your arms toward the ceiling then overhead. Make sure not to let the rib cage lift away from the floor or forcefully push the rib cage flat. Breath into all aspects of the rib cage and into your abdomen with each inhale and allow the two sides of the rib cage to close in toward each other during each exhale. 3-5 reps.
4) Scapular stabilization: Stabilizing the scapulae on the rib cage is important to avoid overworking the muscles around the neck and shoulders. Try to maintain a sense of stability versus rigidity throughout the whole shoulder girdle. Lie on your back and gently “punch” out toward the ceiling allowing your shoulder blades to move away from one another, then bring your shoulder blades back together until they touch the mat. Now find the middle of these two motions. This is neutral. Now hike your shoulder toward your ear, then lengthen your arms out by sliding your finger tips toward your feet. Again, find the middle of this motion, and this is neutral.
5) Neck placement: Finding the right neck position during exercise will help facilitate the right muscle activation and avoid pain. For flexion, lay on your back with knees bent to 90 degrees, arms palms down at your sides. Inhale and drop eye focus down, tip head slightly forward (do not jam chin into chest). Exhale and return to neutral. For extension, lay on your stomach with forehead on the mat. Bend elbows to 90 degrees at shoulder height with palms facing down. Pretend like you are rolling a marble with the tip of your nose as you lengthen your neck. Your gaze should end at the wall or object in front of you.
If you have pain with an exercise or activity, always come back to these 5 principles as a “self-check”. Once you have mastered these, you can advance and incorporate these principles into Pilates reformer and matwork. If successful, these principles will also be attained in sporting activities and general exercise.
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Reference: Merrithew, L.G. (2013). STOTT Pilates Comprehensive Matwork. Toronto, CA: Merrithew Corp.