Don’t use your core! What? Would you ever expect to hear that from a Pilates Teacher? Isn’t Pilates all about the core?
I had the opportunity to take a workshop this past weekend in New York at Sixth Street Pilates called “Separate but Connected – Training Selective Control of the Hips, Pelvis and Lumbar Spine”. (Notice – core is not mentioned in that description) The teacher, Cara Reeser, told us to stop using our core so much. Crazy?? Sacrilege in the Pilates world? Maybe not…
Trust me, it was a bit hard for me to embrace this way of thinking at first. I come from a school of engage your core before you even start moving. Trying it Cara’s way worked! And she and Jeremy Laverdure had the science and anatomy to back it up. Letting go of the stiff core allowed me to move better, farther, and more fluidly. Does that mean my core was not working? No it’s still there and will kick in when I need it but it’s not always my primary mover. So maybe just maybe we’ve tried to turn the core into the end all be all of movement. Maybe we are forgetting that our amazing bodies have other muscles that are ready for the challenge if we just give them a chance? I suspect all of this emphasis on core came about because as a society we do have weak cores and that is problematic. But weak hips aren’t any better or less problematic. What may have started as well intention – strengthen your core – turned into an over emphasis on core at the expense of other areas of need such as the hips, glutes and pelvis.
In the workshop we spent quite a bit of time moving and stabilizing our pelvis. In some cases we let our abdominals soften! Here’s the tricky part – once you learn how to move one way it’s hard to learn a new movement pattern. It’s definitely not impossible but it takes practice and trial and error and patience. If you have ever played golf and were asked to change your grip or swing – it felt weird and wrong at first… until it you did it again and again and you had some success with your swing. It’s the same with any movement change.
In some ways this workshop was discouraging – I discovered things in my own body that needed some real work. If I am being honest, I knew about these areas and issues but just didn’t know how to address them (multiple visits to a chiropractor in years past did nothing to address them either). I knew I had tight hip flexors and this was contributing to lower back issues but could not seem to get my hip flexors to let go. That is were the magic happened in the workshop … the aha moment of learning the selective control and movement I needed in my hips to have success in ways I had not in the past. For me – bracing the core prevented full range of movement in my pelvis and hindered my hip flexors from getting the length they craved. Cara took one look at me and spotted this movement issue or lack of movement issue in the pelvis. Was I successful immediately – no. Was I able to see some change immediately – yes. Do I have work to do – absolutely. That is where I am encouraged. I have an answer and a roadmap to success that I had been seeking for about five years!! That’s exciting!
I also left the workshop excited to share what I had learned with my students and a few students in particular. I love it when I learn something new and just know it is going to have a big impact on a specific student. Having a few students with issues similar to mine … I could not wait to share this selective control of the pelvis. Having some students with the opposite situation – very mobile pelvises – I could not wait to show them how a little more control could make a difference. It’s been a fun week in the studio integrating some of my learnings in to your classes and finding time to work on my opportunity areas. I don’t even want to think about how many times I have said ‘pelvis’ in class this week … but that’s a good thing. Maybe we need to invite our pelvis to the party more often and stop obsessing about the core after all.