Defying Gravity with the Pilates Powerhouse

Posted on March 5, 2024

Most people associate Pilates with the core, and they’re not wrong. However, Joseph Pilates’ Contrology movements all initiate from what he called the Pilates Powerhouse, and the powerhouse is so much more than the core. Comprising the abdominals, the buttocks and the inner thighs, when these multiple layers of muscles are powered up, along with the pelvic floor, they create a column of strength for the spine.

“Remember, the ultimate goal of Pilates is to ‘defy gravity’ and create space and length in the spine in its relationships with gravity and with various weight bearing positions,” says Flex founder Heather Thomas Shalabi. “These three muscle groups are therefore critical. By ensuring this length and space are maintained in the spine, injuries and postural misalignments are avoided, so powerhouse recruitment also becomes corrective.”

Think for a moment about your anatomy. Between the busy shoulders, neck and arms up top, and the pelvis, legs and feet below, is a part of the body that is vital for all movement, yet skeletally only has the slender spine to keep it upright. The Powerhouse is therefore essential for bolstering and protecting the spine, while linking the upper and lower body. Without adequate core strength we rely too much on our backs; that’s when the strain leads to discomfort and an eventual lack of functionality. And strengthening the body using the Pilates Powerhouse is the most effective way to reverse this trend.

In a blog called Rules of Engagement on, renowned Pilates expert Kathi Ross-Nash says, “In the Pilates method, the powerhouse must be the first area to be engaged. It is the beginning, middle and end of each exercise. I think that this is probably the most difficult thing to get across, as most Pilates practitioners (myself included) have deeply ingrained movement patterns. It’s typical for many people, especially newer students, to try and initiate an exercise using their extremities. But what happens? You wind up strengthening already-strong muscles. When you retrain the body to use the powerhouse—or girdle of strength—with each breath, you protect your spine and strengthen one of the most vulnerable areas of your body.”

Most people only think of their core when everyday movements become painful, because the core is at the centre of almost everything we do. From the mundane and automatic movements we make picking something up, turning round or reaching for something, let alone physically negotiating a sport, when your core is weak or painful, you’ll know about it.

Training your core using your Pilates Powerhouse leads to stability, a fine foundation for building on with additional strength and power. The gift that keeps on giving, if you invest in your Pilates Powerhouse, it will pay you back with years of pain-free use and help with the following:

Preventing injuries – powerhouse work brings core stability, a good first step when working with the deeper muscles, before working on your core strength.

Enhancing performance – sports call for a strong core, think the twisting of racquet sports, golf and swimming, the bending of biking, the pulling of kayaking or rowing, the bracing and stretching of volleyball.

Bringing better posture – upright and strong posture isn’t just about looking better, it’s also about minimising the wear and tear on the spine. A strong powerhouse brings better posture, which also helps you breath more efficiently and deeper, and there’s a whole host of benefits that cascade on from that.

Avoiding back pain – Working on the powerhouse will balance the back and abs muscles, which is an effective way to banish back pain. Most people have much stronger back than core muscles, which can counter intuitively result in back pain.

Attaining a beach bod – work from the inside out using your powerhouse, and when you have abs you can be proud of you know your deeper muscles are on fire.

Power up your understanding of the Powerhouse with renowned Pilates guru Benjamin Degenhardt’s workshop Awaken the Powerhouse. The New York based instructor will be in Hong Kong to help you identify the muscles that make up the powerhouse, access them and gain control and strength in your Pilates practice and everyday movements. The workshop runs on February 6, 11.45am – 12.50pm at Island South and February 15, 12.30pm – 1.30pm at Central Studio. For just HK$290 you’ll learn a deeper understanding of one of the pillars of Pilates, which will transform your practice.

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