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The importance of Core and the role Pilates can play in helping Triathletes

The importance of Core and the role Pilates can play in helping Triathletes

Triathlon, both the events, but especially the training, puts an enormous load on all the major joints of the upper and lower body. In particular, the lower back, pelvis and hips struggle to cope with the repeated, constant loads placed on these joints and can break down leading to both short term, but more commonly, long term injury.

As a physiotherapist, seeing a common range of injuries with triathletes for the last 17 years, the most common being lower back disc bulges, pelvic instability and tears to the lining of the hip joints. The best protection you can give your joints to prevent or at least minimise the injuries to these joints is to improve your ability to control your core and improve its endurance.

Pilates is a great tool to work on your core stability, especially reformer based Pilates, which I have been using for 13 years, however, the choice of exercises needs to be specific and targeted for the best results, just like any form of training. Tailored Pilates exercises are always the best, however, here are 3 Pilates exercises you can do at home to improve your core stabilisers to get you started.

Basic exercise for Transversus Abdominis

This is a great exercise for working on core stability that does not put excessive load on the lower back and is safe for most athletes.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent

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  • Draw you stomach muscles in, just below the belly button (This activates the transversus abdominis). The client should be able to maintain a small arch in their back (This is important, because flattening the back activates the power muscles, and actually inhibits the transversus abdominis muscle from working)

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  • Lift your leg into the air, take it out straight and then out to the side, maintaining control of the transversus abdominis muscle.

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When you feel the abdominal muscles bulge, instead of that drawing in action, the client has lost clomid control and that’s where you should limit the exercise for the client (eg if they lose control when taking the leg out to the side, stop at that point, don’t make the exercise any more complex)

  • To add complexity, lift the arms up into the air. As you take the leg out straight and out to the side, lift the arms over the head.

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  • To make the exercise harder, place a weight into the hands. This increases the load on the transversus abdominis without adding too much strain on the lower back

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Superman – Hip Extension in 4 point kneel

This is a more direct exercise for the multifidus muscle, the direct stabiliser of the lumbar spine. You will still use transversus abdominis during this exercise; however the main focus is multifidus

  • Start the exercise on your hands and knees in 4 point kneel

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  • Make a small arch in the lower back, and squeeze the back muscles together in the lower back (This will be a sensation more than a movement and you should be able to feel these muscles become bigger and tighter) This is activation of the multifidus muscle.

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  • Draw your stomach muscles in below your belly button to activate transversus abdominus and lift your leg straight up into the air. Hold for 5 secs, then bring it back down again.

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  • To make the exercise harder, take the leg out to the side as well and hold for 5 seconds.
  • To further progress this exercise, lift the opposite arm straight up into the air at the same time.

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  • If you feel that the client can not maintain activation of the multifidus muscle during any of these exercises, the exercise is too hard, so go back to the previous level of the exercise (eg if the client can not maintain activation of multifidus when lifting the arm in the air, stick to just using the leg only.