Pilates with Hanneke Blog
"Zip your abs...", "pull in and up...." - you hear these phrases in almost every Pilates class you walk into, but what does it mean?
I have many clients that come to me after class very confused about these cues. Are you one of them? Then read on.
First off - why the cue? In Pilates we put a lot of focus on the abdominal muscle: transverse abdominis. The reason behind this is due to the fact that the transverse abdominis compresses the abdomen and stabilizes your lumbo-pelvic (the area around your pelvis and lower back) area and by doing this you protect your lower back and move more efficiently.
As you can see from the picture your transverse abdominis is your deepest of the 4 layers of abdominals (your rectus, the six pack muscle, is the most superficial muscle. Next is your external obliques, then your internal obliques, followed by your transverse)
The transverse muscle wraps around you like a corset.
To activate this muscle we need to exhale strongly - hence the emphasis in Pilates to always breathe in through the nose and out through pursed lips. By breathing in this manner you help activate your transverse and thus help to stabilize your lumbo-pelvic area.
So how do you know you're engaging that deep, deep transverse?
Here's how you can feel it:
Lie on your back, hands by your sides, knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Start breathing in through your nose and then out through your mouth. Repeat a couple of times to just get the hang of it.
Now continue the breathing and start to focus more on what you're feeling in your abdominal area. Feel how when you exhale through your mouth and really empty out, your abs start to feel as if they're literally pulling in around your waste. Try to keep your abs in as you take your next inhalation, send your breath to your upper back and arm pits and on the next exhale feel an even deeper wrapping of your abs. Continue a couple of breaths and then try an exercise that's fairly basic like the ab prep: see video
While you're doing the video try to keep the wrapping feel of the abdominals, engaging them during inhalation & exhalation.
In your next class try to focus even more on your breathing and your abdominal muscles working in this specific manner and you're bound to see a big improvement in your form and your ability to do exercises!
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All the best with your practice and remember to "Zip It!"