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Unveiling the Powerhouse: Pilates Six-Pack Secrets

An athletic woman's torso. The woman has her hands on her hips.
What's In Your Six-Pack?

How many times has your fitness instructor told you you need to focus on your core, do more core strength work? But do we really know what it means or how to do it? I mean, it's just that fantastic Pilates six-pack, right?

Well, just like the beautiful swan gliding gracefully along the river unveiling the secret of the Powerhouse and what's going on underneath that stunning demonstration of six-pack muscles is way more important, and to be honest, way more interesting!

Joseph Pilates called this central area of the body (the torso) The Powerhouse because he recognised that it was the part of the body from which all movement energy was created and controlled. It's main function is to stabilise the trunk of the body and provide a strong foundation from which movement can be carried out.

By activating the Powerhouse we are able to brace the muscles of the torso - protecting and stabilising the spine in the process - whilst carrying out functional movements such as bending down, straightening up, lifting things up, putting them down, reaching, pushing, pulling, twisting and turning.

So, what is the Powerhouse?

Well, there are lots of surface muscles in the torso working together to initiate those movements mentioned earlier. We are all familiar with muscles like the rectus abdominus, hip flexors, obliques, etc.   All these muscles work together - everything is achieved by ‘teamwork’, and like every good team there is a ‘management centre’, and those are our deep core muscles lying, as they do below the surface muscles. This is your real Pilates six-pack.

Let's imagine our torso is a fizzy drinks can, something like this:

A graphic of an energy drinks can with descriptions of the key muscles  of the Powerhouse
The Fizzy Drinks Can

The four key muscles working below the surface to keep you moving gracefully (or not!) above the surface incorporate the diaphragm right at the top of your can, the pelvic floor at the bottom of the can, while the TVA wraps around you like the sides of the can and the multifidus is the seam or spine running down the back of your can. Imagine how strong that can is as it holds all of that fizzing energy bursting to get out - that's your Powerhouse!

How and when can we train to improve our Pilates six-pack?

Activating the core muscles – contracting the TVA for example – is a learned process. We have to train the muscles concerned until the brain can subconsciously carry out the activity. (Try pulling your belly button back to your spine and you will contract the TVA – good now relax it!).

We can take part in activities such as Pilates, Yoga, and T’ai Chi. In the gym unstable surfaces such as Bosu balls, fitballs, wobble boards, are often readily available (though often gathering dust!). At home even exercising on carpet instead of a solid surface will increase core strength activity.

Who benefits from a Strong Core?

The answer is quite simple – EVERYONE.


Whether you are a hunter-gatherer chasing a mammoth across the plains then dragging it home to the family pile; an elite (or recreational) sports person competing for club or country; a hedonistic party animal hell-bent on dancing the night away in those uber-stiletto shoes; a proud parent or grandparent bending over to pick poppet out of the pram you’ve got core stability to a greater or lesser degree and it can always help to improve it.

For some specialist populations the benefits are even greater:

For the elderly the benefits are immense, promoting balance and co-ordination to help reduce the risk of falls and associated injuries and enabling people to enjoy independence for much longer.

Strengthening core muscles before, during and after pregnancy will help to restore the abdominal and pelvic muscles.

For the rest of us – good posture and reduced risk of injury causing lower back pain can lead to a much improved quality of life.


So, the next time you're wondering how you get a Pilates six-pack, there it is – core stability – literally at the centre of everything we do!

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