Understanding the Pilates Powerhouse

The Powerhouse Goes Beyond Core Strength

A female exerciser and an instructor doing pilates
Pilates. HagerPhoto / Stockbyte / Getty Images

The powerhouse is one of the most important concepts in Pilates training. In recent years, the term "core strength" has become more well known and is used somewhat interchangeably with "powerhouse," but the concepts are not exactly the same. Let's explore the differences and what powerhouse means in Pilates.

What Is the Powerhouse?

The powerhouse area of your body goes from the bottom of your ribs all the way to your hip line. It includes the abdominal muscles, low back muscles, pelvic floor, muscles around the hips, and the glutes (butt muscles).

Powerhouse muscles work together to form a supportive corset for your trunk. They stabilize the body, but they also help to create the big moves we make. And they give those moves their dynamic strength and balance. Joseph Pilates emphasized this area of the body in the program of training he designed. All Pilates moves start in the powerhouse.

What Are the Core Muscles?

The core muscles are part of the powerhouse set, and using your core is a component of using your powerhouse during Pilates exercises. The core muscles include the deep stabilizers like the pelvic floor, the psoas, the multifidus, and the transversus abdominis, among others. However, the core muscles are not the big movers like the rectus ​abdominis or glutes, which we include in the group when we talk about the powerhouse.

The gluteus maximus not only is used in powerful movements that require hip extension (jumping, stair climbing) but it also is a muscle that helps create a posterior pelvic tilt. This postural component is important in achieving the neutral pelvic position used in Pilates, which is the reasoning in traditional Pilates behind teaching students to use a butt squeeze to engage the glutes in the powerhouse.

Using the Powerhouse in Pilates

Pilates beginners should aim to think in terms of using the powerhouse right away. It is the powerhouse that gives us the energy, stability, strength, and control to move into the intermediate and advanced Pilates exercises. Developing the powerhouse muscles in a balanced way will help you progress in Pilates and move toward enhanced fitness the fastest.

Put your Powerhouse to Work

Below are several Pilates series that showcase using the powerhouse.

  • 20 Core Minutes of Pilates: This intermediate-level powerhouse workout is done with an exercise ball (with options if you don't have one handy). It strengthens the powerhouse, including the core stability muscles, with 10 exercises.
  • Classical Pilates Mat Exercise Series: This is the traditional first 10 mat exercises as developed by Joseph Pilates. They were designed from the inception of the program to challenge the powerhouse.
  • Level 2 Stretch and Strength Series: Not only do these 10 exercises build abdominal strength, but they also stretch the back, the sides, the front of the body, and the hamstrings to keep your powerhouse strong and supple. This is an intermediate-level powerhouse workout.

Now that you know more about the powerhouse, you can nod with understanding when your Pilates instructor uses the term in class.

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.