Tuesday Class: Using The Core

Learned something new…

“Use your core!” I’ve been told countless times.  I’d always taken this to mean my abs, and taken my terrible balance as indication of either weak abs or completely forgetting to squeeze/engage them in the spur of the moment.  Over time, I gradually remembered to contract my abs and seen a small improvement in my balance (though stronger ankles and feet may have something to do with it too).  But not an extreme improvement by far (and my balancing, especially when releveing quickly, was really hit or miss).

Earlier today I was reading in my Pilates textbook something about how your abdominals will support you, but it’s your back extensors holding you up.  I remembered reading a few months ago that the core includes not only the abs but also some of the back muscles. Suddenly all of Teacher’s analogies about imagining “pushing down” on something with your arms to use your arms to help you balance on releve made sense.  And by core it didn’t just mean squeeze your abs! Couldn’t wait to try it in class!

Of course, between the time I figured this out and class were several hours, and I was close to forgetting that I’d even had the thought at all, if it wasn’t for Teacher reminding us to use our lats and feel our arms push down.

After plies with port de bras we did tendus with one hand on the barre, though no port de bras yet. At some point, possible after the 8-8-4-4-2-2-1-1-1-1 degages with no hands, we did 8 releves, holding a long balance after  the last. Remembering to use my back muscles, I was able to hold the balance! I think this may have been the piece of information I was missing, the key to why I could never balance no matter how much I worked out my core. I’m really excited to see if this holds up – and holds me up – in future classes.

In center, we did the 3 grand battements with arms in high fifth, plie and passe releve balance (while bringing arms down to the sides, yet not in the usual a la seconde position) combination again. My passe releve balances have come a long way since last semester and I’m pleased about that. Still working on keeping my foot pointed on its way down…

My chaines turns were ok, to both sides. Lately I’ve been working on keeping my arms in a nice middle fifth position  in front of me, and it’s possible that this made me engage my back muscles which improved my turning stability. Was able to finish the series of turns in first arabesque with my working leg off the floor and hold the balance.  Not bad.  It’s been one of those things that I can do at home but then when I’m in class I screw it up for a while now.

Sautes were horrible however. I was having a lot of trouble with them, my feet were not pointed and I felt as though trying to point them while remembering to land in plie while not leaning forward was too many things to multitask.  Then we did a 3 echappe changement, pas de chat, other side combination that was kind of fun. I think I do enjoy jumping, it’s just so difficult for my body. Perhaps after enough practice on the jumpboards in Pilates class I will have the muscle memory to jump with pointed feet and land in plie.

We finished up with a 4 chasse (the gallop kind), ballet run  and grand jete across the floor combination.  It was fun, though I felt limited for space; my chasses seem to take me traveling forward quite a bit.  When  we line up to go across the floor, 3 at a time, I end up usually in the back behind the other two.  While I’m more comfortable in the back, I hate feeling like I’m going to land on the person in front of me. Maybe it’s time to consider going in the front.

6 thoughts on “Tuesday Class: Using The Core

  1. Sarah

    This is really interesting, I’ve never quite understood what ‘engaging my core’ meant either, and have always just sucked in my stomach! But after reading your post I went and looked up how to do this properly, and one article suggested that you engage the muscles in a ring around your abdomen, the sensation should feel similar to when you start to laugh or cough, and someone in the comments also compared it to playing a trumpet, which is quite helpful to me as I used to play the trombone!! My only problem with this is, it’s very hard to do and keep breathing at the same time, as pushing down seems to stop my ability to move my diaphragm without relaxing the muscles. Definitely something to try at my next class though, thanks for bringing it up 🙂

    1. kit Post author

      Hmmm, the only instruments I’ve played have only involved the hands (violin and guitar) so I have no firsthand knowledge of how it feels to play the trumpet and trombone and the muscles involved. Never knew it involved the core – interesting!
      I totally get what you mean about feeling like you can’t breathe if you tighten your stomach too hard. However, what we learned in Pilates was to breathe “sideways” (so hard to explain, they call it lateral or thoracic breathing) so that the ribs don’t expand to the front but to the sides. That way it’s possible to breathe deeply while keeping the abs engaged. It takes some practice though – I don’t think I’ve got it yet, and I’ve beeen practicing for several months.
      I really think the back muscles play a larger role than I could have previously imagined though. I will report back if it’s helped me dramatically improve my balance consistently.

  2. Trippmadam

    Core/abs: I remember one of my former teachers used to call the muscles which help with balance “the corset”. This implies that you need both the abs and the muscles of your back for balance (and for turns, too, I think).

    1. kit Post author

      Yes, I’ve heard the corset analogy from at least one of my teachers before as well. Unfortunately, it appears I was too dim to understand what that meant until I had that “Aha!” moment a couple days ago. To be fair, I’d never even given a second’s thought to my back muscles (even after doing ballet for this long) until I started Pilates.
      I’d also heard that turning is dependent on a strong core, but once again, hadn’t been able to truly understand what that meant.

  3. Joyce

    I’ve also heard the corset analogy and I think it’s a good one, because it gets that wrapping idea. Engagement is not gripping, it just supports all the movement you do. I’m finally getting the hang of this with my glutes (I’ve never really had problems with my core because we use that a lot in the Other Movement that I study). My teacher said about the glutes, that it’s not about squeezing as hard as possible (which messes with your pelvic alignment), but working as if you were holding something delicately between your butt cheeks!

    1. kit Post author

      Hmmm, for some reason I caught on to the whole glute engagement thing relatively quickly (doing it correctly, though not always remembering at first to do it at all) though you did a great job of explaining it! I think the core/back/corset thing was a problem because previously to starting Pilates I had no awareness about my back muscles at all – like zero, nothing. It started with me learning that my shoulders were too far forward, but even then I physically had no strength to use my back muscles. As they’ve strengthened I’ve started being able to isolate them and contract them at will; before even if a teacher told me to do it I wouldn’t have been able to.


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