May 15, 2022

Stop Sucking In – How To Really Activate Your Core

Before I started Pilates, ‘switching on my core’ at the gym was me just sucking in, holding my breath and tensing my tummy as hard as I could. But wow… have I learnt that activating your core is so much more than that! Your abs might feel firm when you ‘suck in’ but what you’re really doing is expanding the ribs and lifting the shoulders – the complete opposite of what we want to achieve. What we really want to do is train the muscles in your midsection to contract properly – and protect your spine during movement.

Peaches Pilates instructors usually use cues like; “belly button to spine”, “Pilates corset on”, “ribs to hips” – this is to remind you to engage your core and help avoid any strain on the neck and back. However, it can be tricky to put these cues into action, because there is so much to think about when it comes to aligning your spine and body correctly when practising Pilates. Often the first thing we see to ‘drop’ when a client is starting to fatigue, or focusing really hard on a challenging move, is their core connection.

So Peach, here are a few of my three top tips to help you activate your abdominals effectively – so you get the most out of every workout.

  1. LEARN THE ART OF BREATH: Finding the correct breathing pattern is crucial. When the technique is right, it should feel like you’re wearing your Pilates corset throughout every exercise. An easy way to remember the Pilates breath is to think; “Inhale, prepare and exhale, move”. On your inhale, breathe in through your nose and into the back and sides of your ribs. As you exhale through your mouth, aim to contract your obliques as you compress your midsection.
  2. GET TO KNOW YOUR TA: Your transversus abdominis is the muscle that wraps around you like a corset – and we want it to become our new best friend. The TA actually sits closest to your spine, and when it is correctly engaged (and therefore strong) you’re less likely to injure yourself. During your workouts, rather than thinking ‘tummy tight’, think “strap on your Pilates corset”. As you get better at activating your core – especially your TA – you’ll be able to take on more challenging and dynamic Pilates moves without putting strain on your lower back or neck.
  3. PRACTICE ANYWHERE: It’s true what they say, practice makes perfect. You don’t have to be in a Peaches studio or working out with us online to strengthen your core. You can easily work on your mind/body connection throughout the day by practicing with breathing techniques; try breathing into the back and sides of your ribs, and exhaling like you’re blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. Not only is this great for core engagement – but treating yourself to a quiet moment for some breath work is great for the nervous system!