Apr 2014 12

The core is the new black

By: Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith is the owner of the Pilates Pod – Hitchin’s leading Pilates centre. Together with her team of dedicated Pilates instructors, The Pilates Pod offers Pilates training seven days a week and last year was voted the 2nd best loved Pilates or Yoga studio in the UK.


Michelle Smith of the Pilates POD talk about the core muscles in a guest blog for DWSportsMassage


Body balance, core conditioning, core-blimey!

Everyone’s talking about The Core and trying to include it into some new service to offer. 

Think of the renowned, classic, well-loved black dress. It's the original. It looks good. It makes you look good.

In exercise core terms, Pilates is the classic black dress. 



But then everyone tries to do their own take on it - the grey dress, the black & white dress, the black dress with a splash of lime. They're never quite the same, though.

It’s the same with the Pilates: we’ve now got things like Core conditioning, Barre core, Body Balance, Core on the ball, Yoga-lates and even Core Blimey!

The Core is a phrase that dominates the fitness industry. Professional athletes talk about their core-work as part of training regime. Everyone who works-out on a fit-ball, or does Ab crunches, thinks they're working their core because that’s what they've read or been told by their trainer. 

But (and look away if that’s you and you don’t want to hear this) it will only really work your core if you actually know a few things, like:

  • what muscles make up your core,
  • how on earth you find them,
  • how much do you tighten them,
  • for how long,
  • and that only then you can move the rest of your body!

If you’re just bouncing on a ball, crunching up and down, using resistance bands or anything else you might have read or been told will work your core. It won’t.

How can Pilates help me (or will I look & feel good in my black dress?) 

Named after its creator Joseph Pilates (who actually called it Contrology), Pilates is a way of moving and exercising that works your whole muscular-skeletal system.

Pilates is the purest form of getting to grips with what your core is and learning how to get it to switch on to make you stronger whilst you then move your body.

Here’s just some of the benefits you can expect when you start doing Pilates:

  • stronger, leaner, flexible muscles without adding bulk
  • happier joints that move more efficiently without added impact
  • decreased back and joint stiffness or pain
  • better balance, co-ordination and circulation
  • flatter tummy
  • strong pelvic floor muscles will help with bladder and bowel control as well as sexual satisfaction
  • improved overall fitness levels
  • breathing and lung function will improve
  • improved performance of specific sport skills (running, golf, football, tennis, etc.)

What is the core and are you engaging it correctly? 

Have you been in an exercise class and been told told to “pull in your abs nice and hard” or to “engage your Powerhouse or to “suck in your belly button”?

But what good does it do you to try those things? 

You can suck in my belly button in and out like a belly dancer but that’s not working your core.

You can pull in your abs hard till my face is blue but it wont give your a flatter tummy or support your back.

And Powerhouse – where’s that in your body. Do you even have one?

The Core is a group of deep muscles that wrap around your mid-to-lower body, from front to back, underneath and on top.

It acts like a pressurised corset holding your spine and pelvis in ideal alignment. This alignment allows your joints and muscles work with freedom & efficiency.



Your  spine is the back-bone that holds you up. It protects the central nervous system that controls your entire body and organ. Your ribcage attaches to your spine and moves as you breathe. Alongside your brain and organs, your spine is an essential part of your body.

The point being, unless you are really taught what muscles make up your core unit, how to switch them on and to what level, then you probably aren’t stabilising your spine and working your core.

Picture a cylindrical drum:

  • your Pelvic floor muscles support your pelvis from underneath;
  • your diaphragm assissts from above as you breathe;
  • your internal and external obliques come in like the walls of the waist;
  • your transversus connects you from front to back deep inside your abdominals and attaches to multifidus muscle in your back.

All of these muscle groups must engage together. Getting your body to find these muscles might take a while, it has to be light, slow and mindful for it to be working the right muscles, so don’t expect your first few Pilates sessions to be hard-core (excuse the pun!)

But like the classic black dress, it only lasts and makes us feel fabulous inside if it’s quality.

Don’t be fooled by cheap imitations. With Pilates and core stability, make sure your teacher’s knowledge and qualifications are Prada!

The Pilates Pod and DW Sports Massage Hitchin

Check out video and website for more info.