The Core Of It All

Success in Pilates depends on engaging the right core muscles as you move. Lower back muscles often pick up the slack for the lazier abdominal muscles. Lifting up your kids? Your back does that. Running? Your back. Sit-ups? Your neck and hip flexors are working overtime. Back pain, sciatica, neck strain, and other complaints are not an inevitable part of aging, and a strong core can help.

Wikipedia defines your core as your body minus your arms and legs. Without training, even when you KNOW which muscles should be working, you still can't use them.

I studied exercise physiology in graduate school, and was a personal trainer for many years. I have a relatively strong core, yet I have still caused myself a lifetime of pain from moving, sitting, and sleeping the wrong way. Until last year, when I opened one last Christmas gift from my husband to find a gift certificate for a Pilates reformer session. One session and I was hooked.

For those of you not familiar with the reformer, it looks like a cross between a medieval torture device and a bowflex machine. A ballet dancer on a reformer does full splits while standing on a moving platform, flowing down and back up with ease. I'm positive I didn't look as graceful as I started my first Pilates session, but I'm proud to say that I wasn't too shabby either.

I have been practicing Pilates for about a year, and I can feel the difference, even sitting here writing. My posture is strong, my core muscles are working, and my back doesn't hurt! I can also run. Uphill. Without causing myself three days of back pain, because my "running uphill" muscles are doing their job. It just goes to show, when you focus on the core everything else gets easier.

This also holds true for the "personal" core, the essence of who you are and how you interact with the world around you. There are many parallels between physical core strength and personal core strength. Both require intentional focus and training.

Working parents have a lot to balance, with priorities shifting daily. My personal core is who I am and how I communicate as a leader, wife, and parent. Just as I train my physical core in weekly Pilates sessions, I continuously set goals, learn, and grow in my leadership abilities. I ask for feedback. I think about the kind of parent and leader I want to be, communicate that to those around me, and while I don't always succeed, each failure is a learning experience. When I need my "running uphill" muscles during a challenging situation at work or at home, I know they are getting stronger every day.