We have all heard of the term “core strength”. But what exactly does it mean? Basically, having a strong core means developing the abdominal muscles that support our low back. A strong core helps to stabilize our spine and pelvis, decreases low back pain, protects our low back from injury, flattens our stomach and trims our waistline. In Pilates, we often refer to our strong core (or center) as our “girdle of strength”.
So, how can we develop this girdle of strength? Let’s begin with a simple (but not necessarily easy) exercise to activate the lower abdominals. Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet on the floor. Bring your attention to your lower belly. Notice how the belly pouches out a bit as you inhale, and comes in slightly as you exhale. Breathe in and out a few times until you feel the movement. Then, the next time you breathe out, gently but firmly pull your belly up and in toward the front of your spine.
You should feel a flattening and tightening of your lower abdominals as well as a lengthening of your spine. Feel yourself getting taller as you do a few repetitions. The contraction is not a shortening or “bearing down” movement; it is up and in, without rounding or arching your back. The rest of you should stay relatively relaxed, so you truly are isolating the abdominals.
You can practice this exercise several times a day, just a few repetitions at a time, anytime you find yourself sitting at work, at home, in traffic, etc. Soon you will develop a heightened sense of awareness of your core muscles and may even note that your posture is improving. You will notice that your abdominals will feel stronger and your stomach will appear flatter. Most of all, you will have developed an internal girdle of strength that will protect your back and prevent future injury.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP