There is no better place to start, when learning to properly activate your core, than the pelvis. The pelvis, after all, is our foundation. It is the transition between our legs and our torso and it is [supposed to be] where we derive our stability and strength from to create efficient movements. So, it is logical that we must position our pelvis properly to give the surrounding muscluature the best advantage to do its job properly.
The picture below demonstrates a neutral spine. You can see the curve of my lower back creates a space between myself and the mat which is letting the beautiful, spring sunshine to peak through. This is my resting position. The red ovals show the orientation of my rib cage and pelvis. You can see how this position elongates my abdominals and shortens my back muscles. If you recall from part 1, our core is three-dimensional and all areas must be able to work together to stabilize us. In this position, there is a tendency to overuse the back and underuse the deep abdominals just because of the position I am starting from.
Now compare this to the picture below. In the Pilates world, we refer to this position as “imprint”. As the name suggests, you are aiming at imprinting each vertebrae of your back into the mat. There is no forceful pressure downward, nor should there be much effort to hold this position, it is simply a subtle tilt of the pelvis and the lower ribs to bring both areas into the same plane. Hopefully you can see how this balances the abdominals and back and centres the force within the core and limits the amount of torque through the spine. Here, my friends, is a much friendlier position to begin from, especially when you are lifting the legs off the mat.
Another advantage of starting in this position is that you can use it as a reference point when you start to "cheat". For example, if I was to lift my right leg off the mat, it should be relatively easy to maintain this position. However, can I maintain imprint and lift the left leg as well? As you start to challenge your core more by moving the legs (either together or separately), you will start to take notice what movements force you out of an imprint position. Use this information to guide what movements challenge you, but also allow you to keep stability through the pelvis.
Now, don't let me lead you astray.......it is also totally normal to do core exercises with a neutral spine, and in fact is ideal in many situations (i.e those with disc issues.) It is also common to see people "overdo" the imprint position by forcing their low back into the mat with an aggressive tilt of the pelvis and contraction of the abdominals. However, when done properly, I usually like clients to really understand pelvic placement and how to stabilize themselves properly in imprint before working the core in neutral.
Below is a basic exercise for you to try to get a better idea of what exactly I am trying to say.......it is taken from STOTT® Pilates and can be found here
PELVIC PLACEMENT PRINCIPLE EXERCISES
Starting Position for Exercises 1-3: Lying on back, pelvis and spine neutral. Knees bent, feet hip-distance apart on mat. Arms long by sides, palms down.
1.Rocking Pelvis Rock pelvis
- rock pelvis, alternating arching lower back off floor and pressing back into floor. Neutral placement will be somewhere between these two.
2 Neutral to Imprint
- INHALE to stay.
- EXHALE, contract abs and imprint spine.
- INHALE and maintain imprinted position
- EXHALE and return to neutral.
3. Leg Lifts
- INHALE and imprint lower back...
- EXHALE and lift one foot off mat, maintaining imprint.
- INHALE and return foot to mat
Although this exercise can be agonizingly simple, it is a great way for you to start to understand how much you can change an exercise and where you are targeting your efforts just based on the simple position that you start from.
Go get that pelvis rockin' and stay tuned for Part III....breathing!