After we have located and activated the deep stabilising muscles of the back (multifidi) and the pelvic floor, we want to take a look at centring which works in tandem with this activation for good core stability.
What Is Centring?
Centring is one of the 8 fundamental principles of Pilates. It can often, along with the term core stability be referred to as “using the power house” of the body which means recruiting core muscles deep within the torso to maintain support and control of the body as movement takes place. Staying centred involves using the appropriate muscles to stabilise your back and pelvis. All Pilates movements stem from a strong centre.
What Muscle Is Used In Centring?
The transverse abdominal muscle (TA) is the core muscle involved in centring, it’s a thin, flat sheet of muscle found deep below the superficial muscles of the torso. The TA muscle can be likened to a thick belt or corset that wraps around our waist from front to back. The muscle runs horizontally around our waist and extends between the ribs and the pelvis. The TA attaches to the lower six ribs. It helps to compress the ribs and viscera, providing thoracic (upper to middle back) and pelvic stability and containing and supporting organs located inside our trunk. It sits mostly under the rectus abdominals (the 6 pack) to the front, our external and internal obliques to the side of the torso and under the thoracolumbar fascia in the lower back.
We want to switch on and activate the TA muscle each time we perform a Pilates move, as this will keep us stable, safe, and our back protected through the exercise. It’s a bit like a weight lifter who wears a big belt to lift a heavy weight to stay safe and stabilise themselves through movement. The more often in daily life we switch on and use our natural belt the more it will help stabilise our backs when we stand and move which in turn will lead to a healthy pain-free back.
Why Is Activating The Transverse Abdominal Muscle (TA) Important?
If the TA is not switched on and engaged it can lead to lower back pain and instability of the spine. It can also lead to lower back fatigue after prolonged standing and walking. Poor posture and misalignment for sustained periods of time mean the stabilising muscles such as the TA are held on a stretch, resulting in other more superficial mobilising muscles that are not stabilisers being forced to take over a stabilising role. The wrong muscles are then doing the wrong job which leads to a faulty recruitment pattern and a pattern of misuse over time. We want to let the deep stabilisers switch on and engage and other more superficial mobilising muscles do their own job.
Spine stabilisation requires only a low level of contraction of the TA muscle to enhance the tasks of daily living, about 30% in total. You would think that the more you activate and engage the TA holding your stomach in/wrapping the belt tightly around you the more effective it would be but not so. The TA only needs to be engaged at 30% of its full/ maximum effort. You could think of it as putting a belt on around your waist on the 3rd notch of 10. The video on centring in this blog shows you how to activate the TA muscle.
All the core muscles do not need to be very strong. They just need to be well coordinated and have the ability to switch on and act as stabilisers holding the lumbar spine in neutral and the pelvis in neutral when moving in the three planes of movement; frontal, sagittal and transverse which we move through during class.
A Flat Stomach – The Added Bonus Of Pilates Centring
The TA muscle is vital to back and core health but has an added bonus when it is worked of having the effect of pulling in a protruding abdomen (stomach) and this is another good reason to call it the corset muscle. Training the superficial torso muscles the rectus abdominals alone will not and can not give you a flat stomach; this effect is achieved only through training the TA too and we do that during a Pilates class.
If the TA muscle is weak and not activating properly and only the rectus abdominals are working through exercises like crunches it leads to an imbalance. The result will be toned rectus abdominals above your navel but a bulge (weak TA) below and this weakness and imbalance can then lead to back pain.
Timing and sequence of the activation of the core muscles through the Pilates moves are important. Have a look at the previous blogs and videos in this order;
- Pilates breathing
- Core stability – discusses how to locate and activate the deep core muscles the multifidi and pelvic floor first
Please have a look at this short video and if you would like to know more on how to locate and activate the transverse abdominal muscle (TA) correctly as we do in the Pilates classes or would like to join an online Pilates class please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.