Get To The “Root” Of Your Pilates Practice

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By Nancy Hawkins Rigg,
Founder and Owner, Forever Fit Foundation


Terms such as Root, Core, Powerhouse and Corset Muscles are all synonymous in Pilates terminology when referring to the internal support system in the center of the body.

These muscles provide support for the spine (just like a corset), and are comprised of the abdominals, back extensors, pelvic floor, and diaphragm. Muscles that are often added to this group are the psoas and gluteals. Within the abdominal and back extensor groups are the transverse abdominus and the multifidus – two muscles that have been identified as very important when it comes to stabilization.

Some of the typical cueing you will hear is “pulling in,” “hollowing,” “scooping,” and “zipping up;” all of which refer to a narrowing of the midsection. The word “bracing” elicits an image of holding firm and supporting. To a certain extent, the support is provided by the intra-abdominal pressure, which is created by these muscles. That is why the “corset” image works well.

The “powerhouse” is the most authentic term when talking about Pilates since Joseph Pilates was known to use this term in his sessions. Realistically, it adds the dimension of the mind, which is crucial when working with this general group of muscles. So, in effect, they should be called “mind muscles” since recruiting them demands focus and concentration. This ability to engage lies at the heart of the study of Pilates.  

The multifidi are an integral part of the deep core that also includes the diaphragm, the pelvic floor and the transverse abdominus muscle. They run from the base of the spine or sacrum, to the top of the spine and connect to the axis of the skull. They lie deep to the other back muscles, closest to the spine.  They fill the groove at the sides of the spinous processes of the vertebrae. They are also the only muscle on the posterior side of the lumbosacral joint. From their location, it’s apparent how important they are to spinal support and core stability. Research has shown that strengthening these back muscles is key to improving posture and preventing injuries. It has also been demonstrated that exercising the multifidi can increase spinal bone mass; relieve back pain previously believed to be caused by disc degeneration, herniation, or bulging; and relieve pressure on pinched nerves.

Pilates is one of the best ways to strengthen the multifidi, which is on the list of reasons the method helps alleviate back pain, makes us taller, improves osteoporosis and makes us move more functionally. Yes, all of these benefits can come from one muscle group! 

Incorporating multifidi strengthening into your Pilates routine is as easy as maintaining neutral spine. Neutral spine is found by maintaining the natural curves of the spine, including the curve forward of the neck (cervical spine), the slight curve back of the mid-back (thoracic spine) and the curve forward of the low back (lumbar spine). Working in neutral is imperative to working the multifidi and preventing other more superficial muscles from taking over. Also, because these muscles are postural support muscles, it is important to focus on endurance as much as strength. They need to be strong to brace and support us against load, but they also need to be able to support our bodies in a continual, tonic way for long periods of time without fatigue.

Multifidi work needs to be done throughout your life for prevention of injury and osteoporosis, for maintenance of beautiful posture and for fully integrated “Root” strengthening. Call us today for your free consultation and let us get to the “Root” of your Pilates practice! 302-698-5201 or


Nancy Hawkins Rigg is the Founder and Owner of Forever Fit Foundation, a personal training business specializing in Pilates, Gyrotonic, Gyrokinesis, Yamuna Body Rolling and sport specific training. Forever Fit Foundation accepts clients at three sites: Dover and Rehoboth, Del., and Mendenhall Station, Pa., just over the Delaware line. A certified athletic trainer, she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware and her master’s degree in exercise science and sports medicine from Miami University in Ohio. Please call (302) 423-1816 or (302) 698-5201 to schedule an appointment or for more information.