4 Pilates ab exercises you can do to increase your core strength
Chances are, yourself or someone you know has injured their back before. It is so much more common than you would think and a lot of people put up with daily back pain that could otherwise be avoided if they were engaging their abdominal muscles properly when they exercised.
If your abdominals are not engaging correctly, then you are putting yourself at risk of an injury. The good news? Pilates can help with that. Pilates teaches you how to activate your abdominals correctly which can then be applied to your everyday life, whether it’s at work, while you’re running, walking or doing squats at the gym. Once you are conscious of how to activate your abdominal muscles, it will then be possible to improve your posture, develop core strength and as a result, reduce your chance of injury!
In this blog, I am going to take you through some cues that will teach you how to activate your abdominals correctly and then give you 3 simple Pilates exercises that you can do to strengthen your core.
HOW TO ENGAGE YOUR DEEP ABDOMINALS:
Lie down onto your back with your knees bent and feet flat.
Create a small gap between your lower back and the floor, big enough to fit a grape. This is what we call a ‘neutral spine’ in Pilates.
Now place your fingertips in between your hip bones. Allow your fingertips to sink down in between your hip bones.
Take a big deep breath in through your nose and as you breath out, cough!
Feel that muscle moving underneath your fingertips? That’s your transverse abdominis. Let’s call it the TA for short! This is your deepest abdominal muscle layer and it is directly attached to your spine. It acts like a corset wrapping around your waist, protecting your back. When this muscle is inactive and/or weak, it is not properly protecting your back. Once you learn how to activate it correctly, it will take a lot of pressure off your spine and hopefully prevent an injury occurring.
Now, instead of coughing on your breath out, I want you to take a deep breath in through your nose and as you breath out through your mouth, squeeze your TA muscle and lift your fingertips up.
Keep practicing this as it is really important before you progress to the following core activating exercises
PILATES CORE ACTIVATING EXERCISES
This simple Pilates exercise is designed to help you engage your TA correctly before you progress to more challenging ab exercises.
HOW TO: Lie onto your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Place your hands in between your hip bones. Keep your abdominals nice and relaxed and allow your fingertips to sink down in between your hip bones. Slowly lower your knee half way out to the side while letting your TA relax. Breath out, squeeze your TA and slowly move your knee back to the centre. Imagine that you are bringing your knee back through a sand pit so you have heaps of resistance to push through! Keep alternating sides.
5 reps on each side
This Pilates exercise will help to improve your balance, coordination and overall core strength. To perform this exercise correctly it is important to note what an ‘imprinted spine’ is. An imprinted spine means to have your lower back pressing into the ground. Draw your belly button in towards your spine or imagine you are trying to fit into a really tight pair of pants, in order to keep your back on the ground. Perform this movement slow and controlled.
HOW TO: Lie on your back with your spine imprinted and bring your legs into the tabletop position with your arms reaching up towards the ceiling.
Breath out, slowly lower one leg down towards the ground while simultaneously lowering the opposite arm back behind you.
Breath in, float your leg and arm back to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Perform 6-8 reps on each side
This is for sure one of my favs! It is simple, yet extremely effective at engaging your deep abdominals correctly. To perform this exercise correctly it is important to note what a ‘neutral spine’ is. A neutral spine in this position means to have a small little gap between your lower back and the floor which is big enough to fit a small grape.
HOW TO: Lie on your back with your spine in neutral, knees bent and feet flat. Interlock your hands behind your head and let the weight of your head fall into your hands.
Breath out, lift up into an abdominal curl, bringing the bottom of your rib cage closer to your hip bones, while keeping your spine in neutral. In other words, don’t squash the grape underneath your lower back as you curl up!
Breath in and lower your head back down without letting your rib cage flare out.
Perform 15-20 reps and repeat x2
HOW TO: Lie on your back with your spine imprinted, legs in tabletop and your hands interlocking behind your head.
Breath out, curl up and rotate your chest to the right side while simultaneously extending your left leg out.
Breath in, rotate your chest back to the centre and bring your left leg back to tabletop.
Breath out, rotate your chest to the left side while simultaneously extending your right leg out.
Breath in, rotate your chest back to the centre and bring your right leg back to tabletop.
Perform this movement slow and controlled and make sure you are engaging your TA and drawing your belly button in.
Perform 15 reps on each side and repeat x2
PUTTING THESE EXERCISES INTO PRACTICE:
Try adding these 4 exercises into your weekly exercise regime, 3-4 times/week.
Understanding how your body moves and aligns itself greatly improves your movement, posture and core strength. Try to be more aware of how you are engaging your core when you are doing strength work at the gym. For example, if you are squatting with weight behind your back, actively think about engaging your TA and draw your belly button in towards your spine, in order to keep your back safe.
Having good body awareness is key to avoiding injury! Not only is it important that your abdominals are working correctly, it is also important that your glutes are firing properly. I have many clients complain to me that they are unable to activate their glutes. Weak, inactive glutes can lead to back pain as well as many imbalances in your body that could be affecting your form and technique when it comes to strength training.
Alexandra Richardson / Owner of Duo Pilates