Most of us get told it's good to have a strong "core", but what is it?
The body has a bunch of muscles that work to produce efficient movement and help to maintain an appropriate load on joints, especially at the spine.
There is the local muscle system - these smaller muscles work frequently at low loads and do not necessarily produce a large amount of movement. They create the platform on which our movement occurs. Their action can be influenced by posture, and do their best work in neutral positions. These are often the target of rehab and exercise like clinical pilates, and can be weak or have an inability to perform their job in sufferers of long term low back pain. They help to stabilise the spine and pelvis to then allow the larger torque producing muscles to perform actions such as bending, lifting, walking and running. It's useful to think of these muscles as the foundation on which movement in daily life can occur. "You can't fire a cannon from a canoe".
The global muscle system incorporates the more superficial, larger torque producing muscles. Our body has natural stability "myofascial slings" that includes these muscles on which efficient movement can occur. You may have heard of your gluteals, obliques, lats, erector spinae just to name a few. These are the muscles that when working well together, on a stable base from the local muscle system, allow the body to move with efficiency in a safe way. For instance, try to throw a ball kneeling compared to standing, or to lift a heavy wheelbarrow without using your legs. Chances are you won't be able to meet the demand of the task, or worse get injured.
So does everyone have to do pilates for the rest of their life to get a strong core?
Well no, our local muscle system will often do its role if we are active and do some form or resistance exercise regularly. Our bodies evolved to be constantly lifting, bending, squatting, running and carrying for a lot of the day. Gyms didn't need to exist as they would challenge their bodies daily. Since most of us are virtually sedentary (even a desk worker who goes to gym three times a week and a regular walk is my definition of sedentary if thats the only activity completed that week) compared to how we evolved, it's essential to perform regular resistance exercise.
If you have been very sedentary, or suffer persistent low back pain, you may need to work on getting the local muscle system (the deep core) stronger with rehab or pilates, and then incorporating larger movements that work the global muscle system (outer core) in order to reduce pain, and perform daily tasks with ease.