What’s the secret to strong, toned abs and great posture? It’s all about building a strong core.
We asked Pilates instructor, Candice Beyers why a strong core is so important, plus she shares her favourite power Pilates moves that are simple, yet challenging enough to see results in no time.
What is the core?
Our core is split into the ‘inner core’ and ‘outer core’, explains Candice. This entire area of our torso basically holds everything in place and is responsible for our balance and posture, as well as that toned, defined look we’re all after.
The inner core consists of a deep set of muscles that attach to every bone in our lumbar spine and pelvis, giving them the stability they need to function correctly, while the outer core (made up of more abdominal muscles) is layered on top of the inner core to offer extra support.
“If your inner core is weak, then the outer core can’t do its job and provide enough support and stability. Other muscles in the body then have to compensate for this weakness, which can lead to all sorts of imbalances, pain and injuries,” she warns.
If you’re looking to flatten, tighten and tone your tummy, believe it or not, the answer is not endless sit-ups!
Pilates helps to elongate the muscles and give you that lean look you’re after without killing yourself in the gym. It’s a form of exercise designed in a way that, by practising it, both your inner and outer core is naturally trained correctly, says Candice.
She believes that with a strong core, good balance and the right posture you can achieve results in any sport you want to do, which is why these Pilates moves are so great to do alongside any fitness programme.
How to activate your core
Before you get started with these exercises, visualise that you have a magnet on your back and that it’s drawing your naval towards your spine. Relax your shoulders and remember to inhale and exhale throughout each exercise…
For these exercises, you will need:
A foam roller (available at Mr Price Sport stores)
On the ball
The aim: This exercise will help to strengthen your obliques, create mobility in the hips and stabilise your pelvis by engaging the core and glutes.
Your form should be:
- Hips stacked and body in one straight line
- Elbows out to the side, interlocking the fingers and placed behind the neck to elongate the spine
- Engage your core to stabilise the pelvis and keep your balance while your elbow rests on the ball.
- Start with your leg at the same level of your hip, keeping your leg straight and the foot flexed, lift your leg to the ceiling for 10 repetitions (ensure your pelvis doesn’t move).
- Next, keep your leg at the same level, while moving it forwards and backwards (keeping your movements slow and controlled to stabilise the pelvis and avoid arching in the lower back).
- Lastly, perform small circles (almost outlining the shape of a soccer ball). Finish 10 repetitions in one direction, then 10 repetitions in the opposite direction. Ensure your foot is flexed at all times.
- End off with a stretch along the ball to lengthen the muscles you’ve just worked.
On the foam roller
The aim: This exercise will help to strengthen the obliques, streamline the waist and strengthen the shoulders
Your form should be:
Your body should be in one straight line, your arm directly underneath your shoulder and your hips stacked
- Engage your core to enable the supporting muscles (obliques) to get fired up.
- Hold in plank position for one minute.
- Next, lower your hip to the floor and back up into plank position for 10 repetitions. Avoid touching the floor with your hip.
- Lift your top leg off the bottom leg for 10 repetitions, moving slowly up and down, without touching your bottom leg when you lower the top leg.
- End off with a side stretch to lengthen and stretch out the sides of your body.
Pilates abs blaster
The normal Sit-up / Crunch vs. Pilates abdominal work #sit-ups generally work where the feet are fixed and the upper #body moves to activate the upper #abdominals . Whereas in #pilates , the upper #body stays fixed, and the #legs are moving. By using this method, you are firing up all the #abdominal #muscles (upper, mid and lower abdominals). Your form should be; Shoulders off the mat Chin an “egg width” away from the chest (to protect / avoid tension in the neck) Eyes on the stomach Ensure your back is flat on the mat at all times (an arch in the back will strain your lower back) Keep the level of your legs where you feel the #abs are being challenged without arching your back Visualise that you are getting the bottom of your rib cage to the top of your hip – this is a crunch on its own. Remember by using #visualization this teaches you to be in your #body 100%. AFTERALL, IT IS TRULY THE MIND WHICH TRAINS THE BODY
Note: This move is ideal to activate the entire core and tighten and tone your abdominals, because your upper body stays fixed, while your legs are moving. By using this method, your body is working much harder and you’re firing up all the abdominal muscles (upper, mid and lower abdominals), says Candice.
Your form should be:
- Your shoulders should be slightly raised off the mat.
- Your chin should be an “egg width” away from your chest (to avoid tension in the neck).
- Ensure your eyes are focused on your stomach.
- Your back should always flat on the mat (an arch in the back will strain your lower back).
- Keep your legs at a level where you feel your abdominals are being challenged without arching your back.
- Visualise that you’re getting the bottom of your rib cage to the top of your hip – this is a crunch on its own.
- Engage your core (scoop your naval to your spine).
- Start by bending one leg in line with your hip, and keep your extended leg at a level where your back is still flat on the mat.
- Alternate bringing the legs towards the chest in a slow, controlled motion so that your pelvis remains stable
- Complete 10 repetitions per leg.