Illustration by Nick Orabovic

What we generally refer to today as the “core,” Joseph Pilates called the “powerhouse.” I prefer the term powerhouse because real strength comes from a strong, balanced center.

There are people who believe that “core” means only abs, and those who think if they have a six-pack they are strong and fit. Unfortunately, while those folks may look good today, they are in for trouble down the road. A rectus abdominus that is too strong can effectively weaken the back, causing pain and poor posture later on.

The following moves will ensure that your clients balance their stomach, back and waist strength, and that they engage their abs from the pelvic floor and transversus abdominus. This will provide support for their six-pack; they can have good-looking abs and true strength from their powerhouse.

For all movements, instruct clients to engage pelvic floor, lengthen space between ribs and hips, pull navel to spine and spine to navel, and pull ribs together without rolling shoulders. This will ensure that the abs, lower back and waist are all engaged.

Seated Frog

Description: Sit on pool steps, waist deep, a hand-width from next higher step. With legs externally rotated, bend knees while keeping the heels together. Lace fingers together in front of the chest and inhale. Exhale and straighten the arms and legs.

Cues: Drill sitz bones into the steps; fire down the backside. Do not let torso collapse or move; only the limbs should move.

Step Scissors

Description: Sitting on pool step, waist-deep, extend legs parallel to pool bottom with feet flexed. Keeping legs completely stable, point one foot and lower toward the pool floor on the exhale; inhale, flex the foot and return to start. Alternate legs, being sure the movement of one leg is complete before beginning the movement of the other leg. Repeat 12 round trips.

Cues: Relay race, not scissors. Lengthen front of the thigh when leg lowers, back of thigh when the leg raises. Don’t lean back. Be very careful with balance-challenged participants. Drill sitz bones into the steps; fire down the backside.

Washing Machine

Description: Stand in chest-deep water with feet double-hip-width apart, knees slightly bent and pointing over the second toe, arms extended in front of the body with the palms of the hands together.

Engage pelvic floor; inhale, lifting the ribs off the hips while rotating the waist to the right; exhale and return to center. Alternate sides for 12 round trips.

Cues: Keep hips square to the front and initiate the movement from the waist or obliques only. It is almost as if the opposite hip is pushing back. Do not let participants lead with the shoulders. Keep the shoulders level; do not let one shoulder hike up during rotation Think of using the breath to elongate the waist without allowing the shoulders to rise.

Swimming

Description: Stand in shallow (thigh-deep) water, hands on rail or wall hinged parallel to the water. Flex forward at the hip to bring the torso parallel to the water with a neutral spine. Abdominals must be engaged to support back; hip bones stay square to pool bottom and the feet are underneath the hips. With hands on the pool rail, inhale and raise right leg straight back; lift left arm slightly, exhale and return to the start position. Then inhale and switch sides, raising left leg and right arm. Repeat 12 round trips.

Cues: Initiate leg movement from the crease where the hamstrings meet the glutes. Push through the heel of the standing leg. Do not let the back sag. Some abduction of the standing leg may be helpful.