BLAST THE ABS WITH THE PILATES SERIES OF SIX

Pilates has gained popularity over the years amongst a wide variety of clients from celebrities and athletes to pre and post natal mothers and seniors, and now it has become an important element of any mind/body program.

Pilates is a form of exercise developed by legendary trainer Joseph Pilates in the 1880’s. It emphasises the use of core strength to achieve alignment, balance and control, creating awareness to support efficient and graceful movements. Pilates is also seen as corrective exercise to facilitate good posture with the use of a specific breath pattern and a number of Pilates principles.

Devotees of Pilates swear by the benefits it delivers such as a stronger, leaner body, increased muscle tone and flatter abdominals. However Pilates does more than just get our bodies into shape. Joseph Pilates was interested in creating a system of exercise that resulted in bodies that moved gracefully and efficiently throughout life, not just in the studio or on the mat. The method helps people with a number of day to day life activities such as walking, sitting, or simply picking things up.

The abdominal series is a set of six exercises that solely focus on strengthening and building endurance of the core. The muscles that are used are the core (or corset) muscles that include the Pelvic floor, diaphragm, multifidous, transversus abdominus and internal obliques. The essence of these exercises is to keep the core muscles switched on while using the Pilates breathing technique and the following principles.

  • Alignment – it is important to adopt two states of mind during Pilates exercise. The first is awareness – being aware of the body and in particular which muscles are being used and which muscles are relaxed. The second is mindfulness – being present in the moment. Pilates is practiced in an environment that stimulates a mind/body connection.
  • Centring: Physically bringing the focus to the centre of the body, the ‘powerhouse area’ between the lower ribs and pubic bone. Energetically, Pilates exercises are sourced from the centre of the body.
  • Concentration: By bringing full attention and complete commitment to the exercise, maximum value will be obtained from each movement.
  • Control: Every Pilates exercise is done with complete muscular control. No body part is left to its own devices. (Isacowitz, R,2006)

Pilates breath, known as the lateral thoracic breathing, is performed by inhaling through the nose to fill the side, back and front of the rib cage, and exhaling through the mouth with pursed lips to force the air out.

‘Neutral Spine’ is the natural position of the spine when all body parts are in good alignment. When the spine is in neutral, the pelvis is neutral, and the natural curves of the back and those of the cervical and lumbar spine are maintained. (‘Neutral Spine’ is the most functional position for both are established in lying supine)

Once ‘Neutral Spine’ is achieved, the series commences with a classic exercise from the repertoire called ‘The One Hundred’. In order to challenge the abdominals in ‘The One Hundred’, work with both legs extending out to a long diagonal or use a small prop such as a magic circle or a toning ball. Set up either with both feet flat on the floor, legs in table top or both legs extended out. From here, come in to an ‘ab prep’. Breathe in and pump the arms for 5 counts with palms facing in and exhale pump the arms for five counts with palms facing down. Repeat cycle 10 times or 100 x breaths.

To finish, keep the spine curved as the knees come towards the chest. Grasp your knees, and then allow the upper spine and head to roll sequentially back to the floor. Take a deep breath in and out. Remember to engage the core muscles and gently lift the pelvic floor muscles.

Both feet on the floor, supine

Both feet on the floor, supine

Both legs in table top in ab prep

Both legs in table top in ab prep


Both legs extended in a long diagonal line in ab prep

Both legs extended in a long diagonal line in ab prep

Next up is ‘Rolling like the ball’ which provides the spine with a massage. Sit on the mat with knees bent and hug your knees to your chest. Place your hands either below your knees or just above your ankles. Lift your feet off the mat and draw your spine into an elongated C. Breathe in to roll back and exhale to roll up, making sure not to bury your head between your knees. Imagine an inflated wheel that rolls without effort. Repeat 6-8 times.

'Rolling like the ball’ provides the spine with a massage.

‘Rolling like the ball’ provides the spine with a massage.

Next is the ‘Single Leg Stretch’. As an alternative you can use the single straight leg stretch. Set up lying in the supine position with both legs in table top. Place both hands on one knee and lift the trunk into forward flexion coming into ab prep. Inhale to prepare and exhale to extend or straighten one leg. Inhale whilst simultaneously changing legs and place your hands on the opposite knee.Aim to keep the torso still throughout the movement. Repeat 6-8 times or more advanced 20x reps.

‘Single Leg Stretch’.

‘Single Leg Stretch’.

Aim to keep the torso still throughout the movement

Aim to keep the torso still

Move on to ‘Criss cross’ to really get some work into the obliques. By working the obliques one can look forward to a more defined waist. Commence in a supine position with both legs in table top. Lift your trunk into forward flexion coming into ab prep. Breathe in to prepare and exhale to straighten one leg and spiral or rotate towards the bent knee. Alternate to other side. Keep the elbows wide and stable. Imagine wringing a dish cloth out. Repeat 6-8 times or more advanced 20x reps.

‘Scissors’

Single Leg Stretch

Repeat 6-8 times or more advanced 20x reps

Repeat 6-8

Then comes the ‘Scissors’. Whilst working on the core muscles, the emphasis is also on increasing hamstring and hip flexor flexibility. Start from a supine position and extend both legs towards the ceiling. Place both hands at the back of the legs and assume the ab prep position. Breathe in to prepare, and whilst exhaling, hold on to the back of the leg that is extended to the ceiling. Bring the other leg towards the mat. Bring the leg that is straightened closer to the face and add two pulses. Then change legs. Imagine a hand held fan opening and closing and opening in the other direction. Complete 6-8 repetitions or 20x reps more advanced.

‘Double leg stretch’.

‘Double leg stretch’.

Repeat

Repeat

Conclude the series with the ‘Double leg stretch’. Start supine with legs in the table top position with or without the neck flexion. Place both hands on the outside of the knees. Breathe in to prepare and take the arms up towards the ceiling. Exhale as you extend both legs to about 60 degrees and circle the arms. Remember to keep the torso still and maintain a neutral pelvis. Complete 6-8 repetitions or 10x reps more advanced. Imagine a rubber band being stretched and then rebounding.

‘Double leg stretch’.

‘Double leg stretch’.

keep the torso still

keep the torso still

It is important to counteract the series of six done mainly in supine position in flexion with opposing muscles in extension. Some good choices would be swimming or swan. Series of six is the best way to blast the abs, and adding this to any exercise routine or practicing it on its own will result in a stronger core and back within days.

REFERENCES –
Isacowitz R, Pilates, Human Kinetics, 2006
Pilates JH & Miller JM, Pilates Return to Life through Contrology, Presentation Dynamics, updated version, 1998

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