CoreBody Blog

Re: Abs.

Pilates Builds Strong Abdominals, Essential To A Strong Practice.

Strong healthy abdominals are essential to building a strong Pilates practice, and a mindful connection with our breath, alignment and low abdominals is key to building them!

Strengthening The Abdominals Requires The Following:

  • Aligning to a neutral spine pulls the abdominals in automatically;
  • Learning to release/ relax the abs helps find a deeper abdominal contraction;
  • Tuning into a mindful connection with the breath tones the low abs;
  • Finding a full inhale leads to a full exhale, where your greatest low abdominal effort comes in.

Continuously engaging the abdominals weakens the diaphragm, and ability to take a full inhale which is a greater concern as we must be able to take in enough oxygen to both live and move!

Posture Effects Your Abdominal Engagement

When we align our spine to “neutral”, we are in essence, automatically pulling our abdominals inward, flattening the transverse abdominals (TA), the deepest layer of abdominals closest to the spine which in turn supports our low back. The TA works with the autonomic nervous system when we laugh, cough or sneeze to pull in, however, we can be mindful of our posture to the same effect!

When we’re cognizant of our “neutral” spine lifting up out of our pelvis, we’re mindful of our posture! If we are slumping and not elongated in our waist, in any movement, we won’t find a deep abdominal connection and worse, we will be pooching outwards from the spine unable to attain a deep abdominal contraction.

You Can’t Strengthen A Muscle That’s Already Tense

A healthy muscle is “springy + elastic” not rigid and held in. When you hold your abs in all of the time you can’t strengthen them as you can’t strengthen a muscle that is rigid and tense. We need to release our low abs in order to then engage them, and finding a soft abdominal engagement is key. When we find the softness in the abdominal engagement, we can continue breath deeply, and our abdominals remain elastic enough to be contracted when called upon for support of our pelvis, and low back.

Over-Engaged Abs Weaken The Diaphragm

According to Shari Berkowitz, a Pilates bio-mechanical expert, if you are constantly contracting your stomach muscles in as you breathe, (aka the traditional “Pilates breath” or lateral rib/back breathing), your diaphragm will be constricted and over time you will have a weak diaphragm, unable to have an optimum full inhale. This is of far greater concern than weak abdominals as you must be able to take in enough oxygen to both live and move!

Diagram showing diaphragm functions in breathing on transparent background illustration

Tuning Into A Mindful Connection with the Breath Tones The Low Abdominals

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle that originates in the lower ribs and together with the transverse /low abdominals work synergistically; when one contracts the other must relax. A full inhale leads to a full exhale, so just tuning into your breathing tones the low abdominals.

For a full inhale, visualize filling up a balloon inside your low belly to find an optimal diaphragmatic breath vs high chest breathing.  To take in the appropriate amount of air on your inhale, your rib cage must fully expand as the Diaphragm contracts and the low belly (transversus abdominus) relaxes.

All of your abdominals either originate or insert into your lower ribs. Instructors that aren’t informed, can cue clients to “close the ribs”, or “knit the ribs together”, which limits your lungs from expanding to be able to get a full-inhale. Without a full in-hale one can’t get a full exhale for deep abdominal engagement.   

Full Exhalations Deepen The Low Abdominals & Back-Body Engagement

A full and powerful exhale is where your greatest low abdominal effort can come in with both front and back body support for your pelvis and spine in all planes and movements!

Pilates Is Excellent For Building Healthy Abdominals

Pilates builds healthy abdominals that are both strong and flexible as the Pilates repertoire involves moving the body in all directions requiring stability, and balance working with and against gravity! 

Building strength and flexibility in both front and back body, (abdominal and back muscles), form the body’s “core”, and is the main goal of Pilates for optimal functional movements we do daily.

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