We have already spoken about how our everyday posture influences not only the way we look, but also correct muscle and body use.
We also spoke about mobilising and stabilising muscles and their role in human movement. The importance of conditioning our deep stabilizing muscles is becoming increasingly clear in exercise science. Let’s imagine that you want to reach up to get something from a high shelf. Which muscles do you think are the first to be engaged? The answer is not the shoulder muscles but the deep postural muscles, those which support the spine. If these muscles don’t work you would fall over while you reaching up.
These deep muscles – the transversus abdominus; the pelvic floor; and a deep back muscle called multifidus, are the ones most important in stabilising the lumbar spine and ensuring its most solid alignment.
These muscles create a natural ‘corset’ or ‘belt’ around the waist, and are often called “girdle of strength”. You must have a stable base in a similar way to how a construction crane must be well grounded before moving its arm and carrying heavy loads.
Pilates is the first exercise method to teach us how to engage our core and to maintain it throughout the movement. The latest medical research indicates that the best stability is achieved by slightly lifting the internal pelvic floor muscle up and then drawing the navel towards the spine. This simple action will ensure that you have created a strong base for your spine before you move. To practice this, stand tall in a good posture. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and as you breath out through your mouth, “zip up and hollow”. This basically means you should pull the muscles of the pelvic floor up and hollow the lower abdominals back to the spine. It’s very important that you don’t grip your abdominals too tightly as you are only going to create unnecessary tension and engage the wrong muscles. Remember that the stabilising muscles need to be worked at about 30 percent of their full capacity.
Keep practicing your zipping and hollowing not only while exercising, but also while driving, sitting, walking or lying down. In this simple way, you will eventually adopt a new awareness of your body and won’t need to consciously think before you contact your core muscles.
Another Pilates concept that tremendously impacts our posture is the present concept of the NEUTRAL SPINE.
To find your neutral spine, lie on your back with your arms lifted above your head. Imagine that you have a compass on your lower abdomen. The navel is north, the public bone south, with West and East on either side. We are going to look at two in incorrect positions in order to find the correct one:
- Tilt your pelvis towards north, or “tuck your pelvis under”. The waist is flattered, you have pushed it to the floor, the curve of your lower back is lost. Your tail bone has lifted from the floor and you’ve tightened your ‘six pack’ muscle.
- Then do the opposite movement by tilting your pelvis forward towards south (your pubic bone). Your lower back is arched and feels vulnerable, your ribs are rounded and your stomach is protruding.
Now, try to find the position in between these two extremes, neither full North nor full South, East or West. There remains the tiny little curve at your lower back. This is neutral. In Pilates almost all the exercises are performed in neutral spine. You should learn to recognise your natural NEUTRAL position when standing, lying down flat, sitting or lying on your side. You would not start your car if the gears are not in neutral, so please don’t start an exercise in this way!
Bear in mind too, that your pelvis should also be levelled West to East. Many people suffer from a side-ways twisted pelvis. You need to be constantly aware that the pelvis (and the lumbar spine), stay neutral, level and stable while exercising in order to work the right muscles.
In conclusion, the good news is that wrong muscle use and incorrect posture is reversible! With an exercise programme which is correct, considers the body’s optimum anatomy, and is tailored to your specific needs, you can repair past damage and improve your posture. It’s never too late to begin with Pilates and your body will reward you with energy, mobility and beauty!