Alayna Lee, owner of Pilates at 214 and a Nutritious Life Certified Counselor, would love us all to lose the word "core" from our vocabulary already...which is somewhat shocking for a teacher of Pilates to say since it is the exercise form that was the catalyst for the core movement to begin with! Instead of focusing so much on the core, Lee prefers to focus on proper alignment.
As any yogi or barre-class junkie knows well, proper alignment is a big part of getting the most bang for your workout. When your body is aligned well in each movement, it works harder, strengthens or stretches the correct muscles and prevents injury.
This translates to any and every workout, too, whether you are playing tennis or doing CrossFit. It also resonates with daily postures and movements—how you sit in your office chair or how you walk to and from your car, for instance.
Here, Lee explains how proper alignment is the key to a better workout and why we should drop the ubiquitous focus on the core.
What does the word "core" mean to you?
"I teach Pilates, which means I come across a lot of people who grab their stomach and say 'I need to work my core.' But you will very rarely hear me use the word. The way I look at it is that 'core' means the center of something. No matter the shape or size, you can come at any angle or direction and find the center. So, this broadens the picture to every part of you having a core (center). Your torso has a core, but every part of you also has a core, even your finger," Lee explains.
Why is it important to find proper alignment?
It's important to find proper alignment because it stabilizes your spine and joints. "This essentially means you are creating the proper support for you to be able to stand, walk, pick something up, and do so with no pain and risk of injury. When utilizing the right muscles, you will feel better and be stronger," Lee says.
Look at it this way: You can do all your movements with your dominant muscles, but eventually they overwork and will pull so tight that they hurt you, leading to lower back pain, shoulder injuries, knee pain, neck pain, etc. When you learn to use your supporting muscles to do their part through proper alignment, you will create support for your lower back, for your neck and shoulders, feel better, move better and be stronger. "Your whole body works together to create movement. You may not think you need your shoulders to be in the proper place to keep your neck and back from hurting, but you do," she says.
How can someone strengthen their alignment in workouts?
Lee highly suggests finding a Pilates teacher, yoga instructor or personal trainer that works in functional training, rehab and preventative movements to teach your body to understand the proper way to create each movement you are doing. Through repetition and training, you will begin to automatically align yourself the right way.
Does proper alignment and a "core" workout, well, align?
Strengthening your alignment in every movement ultimately also leads to strengthening "what is traditionally thought of as the core—four levels of abs (transverse abdominis, internal/external obliques and rectus abdominis), pelvic floor and back (where the supporting muscles for your torso live)," Lee explains.
What are a few easy, everyday practices that will strengthen alignment?
- When standing or walking, imagine you have a string pulling you up. "Forget drawing your shoulders down and back (another discussion) and just let your spine lengthen through the top of your head," Lee suggests.
- When seated, imagine you are sitting in a water donut and you don't want to get your bum wet. "That perching up sensation will help you draw in your pelvic floor and stomach creating support for your lower back."