The Pilates Powerhouse, a crazy name that Joe Pilates used to describe the major muscles of the trunk, is used throughout all of Pilates practice.
It’s referenced in Pilates history, certification materials, and instructor cuing, but when fully explained and demystified you can see that the powerhouse can be used in any workout.
The powerhouse is the central point from where all movement and energy stems.
Many assume that this means the abdominals, but you would only be sort of right.
Think of your trunk (collarbones to hip joints) as the area where your powerhouse resides and all the major muscles in that zone comprise the powerhouse.
That includes all four layers of your abdominals (yes, there are four layers), the hip flexors, the hip extensors, the major muscles of your back and shoulder blades, and deep muscles used for side bending. All of these muscles work in tandem to create movement, radiating from the core out to the limbs.
But more than landmarks of the body, the powerhouse is a concept that embodies the Pilates Principles. If we’re able to concentrate in our Pilates practice enough to connect our body so the movement we create is done with control, precision and flow, then the powerhouse is in use and is doing its job.
Whether that last part resonated with you as a Pilates practitioner or you’re thoroughly confused, let’s bring the lofty ideas of the powerhouse back to earth and see how you can feel it in your everyday workouts. To me, the two most important things the powerhouse can do for you in any workout is keep your abs engaged and shoulders down.
Abs Engaged Instructors often use the “bellybutton to spine” cue to get their students to engage the core correctly. Many people, before they have their first Pilates experience, tend to think that the abs engage when the abs are pushed out.
-Do a crunch and hold it.
-Look to your abs and then pull your bellybutton down. -When you’re in this crunch with the bellybutton pulled down, you should feel engaged from the ribs all the way to the pubic bone and there should be a sensation of the belly scooping in.
If you do your crunches or any ab work with that concept always in mind, you will strengthen your core and create a more slimming waist since your abdominal engagement is getting into the deeper layers of the core. Pushing the abs out when you crunch will only build a core that superficially strong and thick in the waist.
Bring this “bellybutton to spine” idea into any workout or movement. You will feel like your spine is more supported (preventing injury!), and you will feel the core take some of the burden off other muscles.
It would be hard to find a person in today’s society who doesn’t hold tension in his or her shoulders. When seeing slightly raised shoulders in a Pilates class and the “shoulders down” cue is used, students release their shoulder tension momentarily only for the shoulders to inevitably creep back up. Keeping the shoulders down isn’t just about releasing tension, but it’s also about actively engaging other muscles of the powerhouse to keep the shoulders down.
-While in a crunch, hover your hands off the mat and reach your fingertips long to the wall in front of you. Feel your shoulders pushing down. -Feel the shoulders push down so much that you feel underneath your armpits engage. That’s your latissimus dorsi and serratus anterior working (as a result of other shoulder depressors engaging as well.)
Finding this engagement in all workouts will not only allow you to work these muscles for a nicely sculpted back and strong side body, but it will also create a long neck and wide chest. These muscles (along with other shoulder depressors) take the burden off your upper trapezius, preventing injury and a Hulk-ish looking shoulder and neck area.
If you think of these two things in any workout, you will perform any workout reps with more control and precision.
You will be able to hone in on the targeted muscles of any exercise while also ensuring that the movement involves many more muscles of the body. So go ahead and use the Pilates Powerhouse in any workout!
I’m sure good ole Joe would be proud.
Kara is an Instructor and Marketing Director at Plank Pilates Studio in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
She has lived, worked and danced in Manhattan since Summer 2011. She completed her initial Pilates certification in 2009 and was the first instructor to be certified in Plank’s Progressive Pilates Certification Program. Going beyond classical and contemporary Pilates training, she has also studied dance, anatomy, somatic theories and nutrition.