How to activate your Core Muscles

During Pilates we aim to activate the core to stabilise the pelvis and give us core stability. 

What is Core Stability

Pilates exercises start with reference to your “core stability” achieved by lifting your pelvic floor then engaging your transverses muscles between your hip bones. These muscles need to be worked at approximately 30% of their full capacity (Maximum Voluntary Contraction) so that you build endurance into the muscles and then, hopefully, they are applied to everyday life. It is important to strengthen the deep internal muscles in particular the transverses abdominus, pelvic floor, multifidus and the obliques. Keep engagement of rectus abdominals around the rib cage activity to a minimum because it has a relatively small role in stabilising. Research indicates that the best stability is to be had if the action begins with isolating and engaging the pelvic floor muscles and then engaging the lower abdominals. As you breathe out to prepare breathe in and draw up the muscles of the pelvic floor.


The Pelvic Floor is also a vital muscle in your body: it underpins your bowel, bladder and the uterus, and supports your back and spine. Refer to the picture which shows the muscles that stretch like a hammock from the front to the back of your pelvis. When these muscles are strong and healthy they give us complete control and support over our bodily functions and help contribute to satisfying sex. The muscles consist of 2 types fast and slow twitch and require you to strengthen them with fast and slow squeezes to support your core!

In the absence of exercise, simply getting older brings muscle deterioration. But childbirth, pushing on the loo, hysterectomy, menopause, lack of oestrogen and muscle tone, obesity, bad breathing habits, excessive coughing, poor posture, weak gluts, stress, and high impact exercise like running, jumping and weight lifting can also contribute to a weak and ineffective PF (stats show high reports of female fitness instructors with weakness).



Leaking urine is embarrassing, inconvenient and happens to one in three women due to a weak PF. Showing signs when you cough, sneeze, laugh, run or exercise, not reaching the loo in time, or struggling to control yourself and at worst a prolapse (suffered by millions of women) which can contribute to bad posture, back and neck pain and can take away our freedom and confidence to enjoy an active life.


PF restoration and maintenance exercises are incorporated in many Pilates classes. They effectively start with isolating the muscles then incorporate your core – diaphragm, deep abdominals and deep back muscles. If dysfunctional you need to start with the basic exercises to learn to isolate the muscles but if you have no problems just keep mobile and do the following 3 functional exercises. The functional and movement based exercises can be 70% more effective than just kegel /pelvic floor exercises (research by Dr. Bruce Crawford Pfilates (Urogynecologist).as they incorporate the muscles which work to provide stability to the pelvis, pf and maintain your posture and alignment : gluteus minimus, the hip adductors, and deep hip rotators. We advise you to breathe out exertion when you start to engage the PF muscles. Ideally, you’ll do these exercises for the rest of your life anytime, anywhere.


  1. Stop your wee mid flow on the loo (only do this once or you’ll risk getting a bladder infection).

  2. Tighten the muscles around your vagina and back passage and lift inwards and upwards. Count how long you can hold for, then completely relax the muscles. Aim to hold for 10 secs. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists recommends you practice this contraction just before you get out of a chair, cough, and sneeze or laugh to increase support and to retrain a weak pelvic floor.


Check in the mirror: either seated (don’t cross legs as you can use your gluts/ buttock muscles) or lie down on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat (If pregnant lie on your side).


  1. Fast Pelvic Floor contractions: lift quickly like an on / off switch hold for one second. Repeat 10 reps

  2. Slow Pelvic Floor controlled contractions : Imagine your PF muscles are an elevator lift at the ground floor of a building. As you contract and breathe out, imagine the elevator rising, slowly, to the second and third floor. Release slowly as the imaginary elevator lowers to each floor and returns to the starting position. Breathe in and relax completely (repeat 10 reps and hold for 8-10 seconds. This increases endurance for impact activities (eg trampoline, running and weight lifting).


Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent, find a neutral curve in your lower back, engage your pf and lower abdominals on each exercise.

  1. Pelvic tilt: Standing or lying down gently rock your pelvis forward and back (anterior then posterior pelvic tilt). As you rock back breathe out and pull in your PF and abdominal muscles, feel your low back pressing and hold 30-60 seconds. This mobilises and lubricates the joints of the spine and hips, improves and increases blood flow, combines deep breathing and pf activation.

  2. Inner thigh squeeze: place a pillow or ball between the knees and squeeze repeat 10. To progress lift and straighten legs towards ceiling, open, exhale then close and squeeze repeat 10. Aim to strengthen your deep abdominals, hip flexors, and inner thigh muscles.

  3. Curl up: Engage pelvic floor, breathe out pull in your belly button and lift head * 5. Aim to improve core strength (if rectus diastasis hug arms across chest and gently pull hands towards each other).

After exercises you must release the muscles as we are often too tense so stretch inner thighs: hug knees in to relax the back and rock then open the knees wide, hold 30 secs and press inside of knees and visualise the PF muscles relaxing.


  1. Squats 1: breathe in to bend with legs wide push bottom back as if going to sit back on a chair, breathe out and lift. Repeat 10-50. Aim to stretch and strengthen core, bottom and legs and lower back.

  2. Squats 2: Slowly lower yourself down into a deep squat bottom near your heels (you may need to hold onto the back of a chair for support). Place a pillow behind your knees (to take some pressure off the knee joints) or remove for a deeper hip and thigh stretch and stand with your heels on a firm cushion. Do not let your back round or your tailbone tuck under. Lengthen your spine and lift your heart, maintaining a neutral spine position. Hold 30 secs repeat 3. (Feet flat is harder).

  3. Squats repeat above with PF squeezes. PF muscles are lengthened in a squat so a good position to really sense the contraction and relaxation against gravity. Repeat 5-10, fully relax between repetition.

Exercises to strengthen the Pelvic floor

If you have an issue – prolaspe or weak pelvic floor the yummy tummy course is perfect for you – please speak to me to start. To strengthen core correctly the aim is to learn to control pelvic floor, transverses abdominus and then directly belly abdominal muscles (without engaging oblique’s in the waist). Exercises are slow for the belly to work the slow endurance and slow twitch fibre muscles. 

Level 1 

All exercises must be slow with no pulsing or quick squeezing as we want you to work the SLOW TWICH muscles fibres to give strong core endurance (deep) muscle support.

AIM Breathing and learning to contract Pelvic floor then TVA then belly button (in this order so you don’t create problems later in life i.e. menopause (PF most important)

Try and do PF exercises in a neutral position i.e. if sitting don’t cross legs

POSITION neutral seated or standing (check mirror if you can)

1.   Belly Breathing * 10

Hands on tummy -(Breathe in belly goes out and breathe out to suck belly and pelvic floor in and up)

2.   Hold 30 Secs (squeeze) and breathe

3.   Tight slow squeezes * 10

4.   Pelvic Floor contractions fast and slow * 10

5.   Belly button In and out slowly * 50


Level 2 

Focus AIM – Stabilise pelvis by – Strengthening Tranversus, deep abdominals

POSITION Supine (on back) knees bent.  Pelvic tilt hug arms across ribs- (if pelvic floor weak you can squeeze knees together)

1.   Engage pelvic floor suck tummy in and breathe hold 30sec repeat * 3

2.   Lift leg to right angle then change legs – knee fold * 10

POSITION lie on front

3.   Lift straight leg then change sides * 10

4.   Stretches – hold 30 secs

Hamstrings, Hip flexors, Back chest stretch, side bend and twist


Level   5 & 6 – Aim use functional and movement based exercises to work pelvic floor, TVA and abdominal muscles to help stabilise and support the spine as its 70% more effective than just kegel /pelvic floor exercises.

POSITION Supine (on back) knees bent feet on floor

1.   Engage pelvic floor, breathe out pull in and up belly button and lift head * 10

2.   Reverse Curls –pull in belly button, back/spine towards the floor and gently lift the hips up and squeeze your bottom.

Yummy Tummy Membership monthly videos

To sign up and see the next video to take you forward it is 15 mins a day for £15

Functional vibration plate – classes on Thursday am

Workshops and classes please refer to the website 

Pelvic floor disorders –– Why does this matter? The role of pF  – Signs of symptoms – leak urine on coughing, sneezing, laughing or physical exertion, leak urine before reaching the toilet, stress incontinence (peeing a bit when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or exercise), are menopausal (for women), for men suffer post urination dribble & have symptoms relating to erectile dysfunction overactive bladder (having a frequent urge to pee or having to get up to pee at night), prolapse (when the organs of the pelvic floor, such as the bladder, uterus, and bowel, begin to fall out of place), bowel incontinence (having a hard time controlling when you pass gas or have a bowel movement).  (An overactive Bladder Syndrome was second only to major depression in terms of impact on quality of life –Loss of bowel and bladder control is the number one reason that people end up in nursing homes) 

The above can be caused by menopause, prolapsed after childbirth or pushing when on the loo (when the organs of the pelvic floor, such as the bladder, uterus, and bowel, begin to fall out of place),childbirth, aging or obesity, and can occur in both women and men.

Personally after childbirth and years later I have had a “weak bladder”, and would get up often throughout the night to pee. Sometimes running caused stress incontinence. I do kegels and am in decent shape, but it could be a pelvic floor disorder, but these exercises and diet can be an easy fix for this condition. 

Thanks Hannah 


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