Pilates Students' Manual

Why Every Pilates Exercise Is A Core Exercise

June 01, 2023 Olivia Bioni Season 6 Episode 5
Pilates Students' Manual
Why Every Pilates Exercise Is A Core Exercise
Show Notes Transcript

Pilates is all about the core, but what does that really mean? Today we dive into Pilates as a system that moves the spine in all directions and works all major muscle groups to near fatigue. We explore Pilates exercises as full body movements that rely on core strength to happen, but are also adaptable to meet you where you are. Tune in! 

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Show Notes:

Learn more about the core in this podcast episode: https://pilatesstudentsmanual.oliviabioni.com/1005949/4317224-what-is-the-core

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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new.

[00:00:47] Hello. Hello everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're diving into a spicy, uh, topic. I'm trying to find spicy episode names for us. And today's [00:01:00] episode is why Every Pilates exercise is a core exercise. We're gonna talk a little bit about the core, which I do have another episode about. There is another podcast episode that I did earlier called, you know, what is the Core? And really talking about the muscles and the function and if that is your jam. That is a great episode to check out. 

[00:01:25] But I feel like all of us have a general idea of what the core is, and we think about ab exercises and we're like, oh yeah, man, that's working the core for sure. So I want to throw in some thoughts to this mix, and I hope they come out in a coherent way.

[00:01:42] But this idea of core exercises being very specific exercises is a bit simplistic, and I think that Pilates especially offers a different way to use our core [00:02:00] functionally in the exercises that doesn't involve doing a hundred crunches. 

[00:02:05] Just a little recap of core land. Um, our core exists in our body in the space between our ribs and our pelvis. The muscles go beyond ribs and pelvis, but it's namely this muscular canister. Because if you think about your ribs as housing, our lungs and our heart and our pelvis is, you know, a nice bony structure at the base of our torso canister. We don't have any bones between our ribs and our pelvis, right? It's just muscles that are protecting and holding in all of our organs there.

[00:02:41] So we obviously want them to be strong because we don't want our organs falling out of places. I like them where they are, thanks. So that's what the core is. It exists there. And there's a lot of myths about our core, namely that a weak core causes low back [00:03:00] pain, which we know is not true. Back pain is multifactorial, is very complicated, and any muscle weakness might be a contributing factor, but is not a direct cause. We cannot make that statement. 

[00:03:16] You may have also heard that quote, bad posture is caused by a weak core or a tight core or something along those lines. You know, from listening to this podcast, that posture is really a transitory state, um, no one has a static posture. Anytime posture is assessed, it's a single moment snapshot, and lots of things contribute to our posture from our emotional state to how much sleep we got the night before to how safe we feel in the space. Like do we feel confident? Do we feel nervous? All of those things affect our posture. And once again, we can't draw a [00:04:00] line that says, ah, weak core, bad posture. That's not a thing. That's not real life. That's way, way, way too simple. 

[00:04:07] That being said, we also know that it is important to have a strong core, and it's important to have a strong core for the same reasons it's important to have strong legs and strong arms and a strong back. It allows us to do the things that we want to do in our daily life with greater ease, and it also expands the possibilities of what we can do. When you are stronger, you can lift heavier things, you can walk further, you can do more stuff, perhaps. Maybe that stuff is handstands. Maybe that stuff is picking up your pet or your plant or your child, or someone else's child that is hopefully related to you. Because no matter what, you've gotta unload groceries and you've gotta unload the dishwasher, and you've got to move a couch occasionally. So being strong in all ways [00:05:00] helps us do those things with greater ease.

[00:05:03] So how does Pilates strengthen our core? First, I wanna look at how we get strong generally, and the way we get stronger muscularly and increase our capacity of what we're able to do is we have to add more load. We have to do more than we've done before in an incremental way. We don't go from lifting a five pound dumbbell to a 500 pound dumbbell in one day, but we incrementally increase the load of whatever task we're trying to do. 

[00:05:35] And our body, especially when we do things regularly, our body's like, oh man, I thought you only needed this much muscle, but now you're doing this thing that requires more muscle, so I will build you more muscle. Um, that's kind of the way we get stronger in all ways.

[00:05:51] Our core is composed of muscles the same way your arm muscles or muscles in your leg. Muscles are muscles. So we introduce more load, we [00:06:00] increase the demand on that muscle system or on those muscles, and then over time we are able to do more. We just keep increasing the challenge. That's how we get stronger.

[00:06:12] So this is one of the greatest things in my opinion about Pilates, and that is the fact that Pilates is a system. Pilates isn't just one exercise, and I use running as a comparison again because running is a very repetitive activity, even though you can run up hills or you could run sideways, I guess, but running is on its face is amazing cardio, absolutely incredible. Super good for you. Can be hard on joints, but there's ways to run that are less hard on joints, but it's a repetitive movement that is the same all the time. You can increase your speed, you can increase your endurance, but running itself is the same. 

[00:06:53] Pilates is a system of exercises where no two exercises are exactly the same, and [00:07:00] they, as a system, move your spine in all directions. That means we're getting some lateral flexion or side bending. We're getting some forward flexion, uh, like forward folds. We're getting extension, which is back bends. We're getting rotation, which is any twisty business. And you're doing all of that. You also work all major muscle groups to near fatigue.

[00:07:24] So in Pilates, we don't work to failure. We don't go until our legs give out, but we do several repetitions of an exercise to the point that we feel tired, but we haven't totally fatigued ourself. And ideally when you're working in that sweet spot, you might feel a little bit sore during the class. You might feel sore after class, but within 24 hours, if you're within your capacity, that soreness tends to go away. If it persists, it means that that was kind of a bigger jump than your capacity could take, and so you just dial it back and build it back up. But the [00:08:00] goal is, I think, in Pilates is that you can move the next day, and even that, you feel better after doing it, even if it was hard, even if it was sweaty.

[00:08:07] Pilates is an integrated system of exercise where you're using your whole body to execute some pretty complex movements at times. If you look at Joseph Pilates, OG Matwork in Return to Life, they're complicated exercises. You're using your arms, your legs, your back, your front, your side, but not necessarily in every exercise, but in the system of exercises. If you do all of the exercises or versions or variations of the exercise, you're gonna hit. All of those things, it checks all those boxes. 

[00:08:41] I love this about Pilates. Because our life involves complex movements. When you are unloading the dishwasher, as I mentioned, you're bending over, you might be bending your knees, you're using your arms, you're picking up dishes, you're opening cabinets, like you're using your body in a more complex way than a [00:09:00] simple bicep curl, right?

[00:09:01] So Pilates in that way mirrors the complexity of life. And sometimes what I'll tell clients is that it over prepares you for life. Sometimes it's more complex than life, which makes regular life seem really easy and simple and fun by comparison. 

[00:09:15] And because Pilates is a system, because you're using your whole body. As you do Pilates, of course you're going to use your core. Of course, your core is going to get stronger. It just happens. It's one of those magical things that happens that the more you do it, the better you get at doing it, the stronger you become. 

[00:09:34] Now one of the functions of our core is to assist in breathing and to assist in managing our intraabdominal pressure. And intraabdominal pressure is just a fancy way of saying the pressure that's inside of our torso. So our torso is a finite space and there are organs and stuff in it, and there is a baseline pressure. When you take an inhale, your lungs expand [00:10:00] and the, your torso is the same size. You know, it stretches a little bit, but it's a finite space.

[00:10:04] So when you inhale, there's more pressure in your system. There's more pressure when you bear down and like really tense. Like if you're holding a plank, you're, that's creating pressure in the system. And then when you exhale or you open your throat and you let air out, that allows us to equalize the pressure in our system.

[00:10:23] Now you breathe all the time and you're using your core all the time. So that's the little like cutesy thing about it. So you're using your core all the time, but breathing doesn't feel like exercise, right? Because it's within your capacity. You're used to breathing the way that you breathe so it doesn't feel like working out.

[00:10:42] If you've ever had a surgery or an operation or anything's happened to you where breathing was difficult and it, you could feel how much work it was to breathe, you know that it's exercise. If you can imagine that, you know, that it's exercise. But for the majority of us, [00:11:00] we don't notice breathing as an exercise because it's within our capacity. Pilates allows us to put more demand on our core. In order to help it get stronger. 

[00:11:14] Coming up after the break, I'm gonna tell you a little bit more about how it does that, as well as some examples of how that works in specific exercises. So you can go on this visualization journey with me. That's coming up next.

[00:11:32] Hi there. Enjoying the podcast? Me too. Make sure you subscribe wherever you're listening so you get notified about new episodes. And visit buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts to support the show. There you can make a one-time donation or become a member with a donation of as little as $5 a month. 

[00:11:53] Members get some awesome perks, including a shout out in the next episode, a monthly newsletter, a [00:12:00] monthly zoom call with me and more. You can also visit links.OliviaBioni.com/affiliates and check out some sweet deals on products I use and love. Now back to the show.

[00:12:32] I talked about in the first part that our muscles get stronger when we increase the demand that we put on our muscles. We can increase that demand by adding load or adding repetitions. So you add load when the thing that you're lifting gets heavier. It was five pounds, now it's 10 pounds. You increase the load.

[00:12:54] You can also increase the repetitions that you do. So if you have that [00:13:00] same five pound weight and you lift it a hundred times instead of 90 times, like you've done more, I would argue there's a point, you know, when we're getting stronger that it's like, yeah, I could keep lifting this same thing but more, but it's rather inefficient. It just takes a long time. It is more efficient to just lift something heavier. 

[00:13:23] The same is true for our core. So we think about our core and Pilates in maybe there are certain exercises that immediately come to your mind and you're like, Ooh, that's a core exercise. Something like the roll up, something like the hundreds, something like the series of five, including a single leg stretch, double leg stretch, single straight leg stretch or scissors, double straight leg stretch or lower lift and crisscross. You're like, yeah, those are definitely ab exercises, right? They are. They are. But they're also neck exercises. They're [00:14:00] also leg exercises. They're also coordination exercises. 

[00:14:06] So a big takeaway that I want you to take from this episode is that no muscle is an island. None of our muscles work in isolation. It's always a teamwork makes the dream work situation in our body. If you've ever been injured and noticed how your body adapts to that injury, the muscles surrounding the muscle that might do the job most efficiently will take over the job when one of those muscles is compromised. 

[00:14:36] We see this in our shoulder. There's something called the rotator cable in our rotator cuff. Rotator cuff are just the muscles that attach our arm to our torso and they rotate the arm, hence rotator cuff. But they do lots of things. They move our arm in all directions. And there's this cable, so if you have a tear in one of the muscles in your rotator cuff, the load of your [00:15:00] arm is distributed to the other muscles. So even though it's not their job, maybe to lift your arm to the side, they can help your arm do that. If the number one muscle that does that is not, uh, working at full capacity, right. So we have great potential to adapt. 

[00:15:17] If you have, you know, ever been in a leg cast, you've been in crutches, suddenly your arms are doing some of your leg work. If you have something like a labral tear and turning your leg out is really bugging your hip, you know, you find other ways to move. You don't just stop moving because of an injury. So our body does that all the time, all the time. 

[00:15:42] So I say all this to say that our body works as a team. So even in an exercise like the hundred, which happens on the mat, happens on the reformer, probably happens on every single piece of equipment. It is a core exercise. You will [00:16:00] feel it potentially in your core, but it's not just a core exercise. So as I said, your neck muscles are working to lift your head. Your leg muscles, specifically your hip flexors are working to lift your legs. Your arms are working to pump up and down. 

[00:16:21] We can alter the amount of load in our core by changing all of those pieces around the core, right? So you could keep your head down in the a hundred. You could bend your knees in towards you or keep your feet on the floor, then you're supporting less load because your legs are down, or your legs' lever is a bit shorter. You can minimize the size of your pumps or make your pumps bigger. If you're on the reformer, you can change the springs that you're pumping against.

[00:16:53] Pilates exercises are infinitely adaptable. So in an exercise like the a hundred, we can change the load in the core. But [00:17:00] even if you're doing something like a standing arm exercise for Pilates, your core is still supporting you in that movement. We try to maximize our efficiency in the movement. That's where a lot of the refinements come from. So that we aren't tensing unnecessarily, but we also aren't relaxed in places that could be helping us. It's all about finding that balance, but because we're finding that balance in every exercise, whether you're sitting on the box doing arms, whether you're standing at the springboard doing arms, whether you are standing on the carriage doing arms, which is possible and has a whole new element of coordination and balance in addition to arm strength and core strength.

[00:17:42] But your core plays a part in all of your exercises. In Pilates, we don't just do core exercises, but we know that the core is an important part of every exercise that we do. I hope that's what you're finding in your classes as you're taking them, that you're getting stronger in ways that you didn't know that [00:18:00] exercises that you didn't think would be so core heavy are suddenly becoming easier as you get stronger because your core is stronger, like it all comes together in beautiful ways. 

[00:18:11] In short, don't worry about using your core when you do Pilates, just know that you are using your core while you do it, and enjoy the adventure that is Pilates every day. 

[00:18:24] Really big thank you to all the new supporters of the podcast. I appreciate you taking the time to visit that by me, a coffee page, and to support this project. Huge thank yous to Geraldine, Christine, Emily, and Candice. I appreciate you and look forward to connecting with you in a coffee chat. Have a great couple weeks and I'll talk to you again soon.

[00:18:57] Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of [00:19:00] Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates too? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts.

[00:19:20] I hope to see you next episode. Until next time.