Strengthen your abdominal wall
'Abdominals in and up'. 'Draw your navel to your spine'. 'Pull your stomach in'. Whether you do a class or a private session with me, you will have heard these cues plenty of times. Where do they come from and why are they so important for your pilates work?
Cueing is the third phase in the classical pilates method. The first two are Technique and Flow. As a teacher I first need to make sure that the body in front of me knows where the arms, legs and other body parts go - Technique - and after a few repetitions I can add Flow with breath and/or rhythm which should not be confused with speed. Then we can start cueing.
A cue is a signal from a teacher to the client how to perform the exercise correctly adding muscular recruitment. These muscular actions are also described as the Power House. More about that in a previous blog post 'Explore the Core - Part II'.
There are five Power House Actions (PHA):
The Abdominal Action
Hug the midline
Square the box
Oppositional | Pulsating | Balancing
You will have heard the first two ones in one of my classes or in the studio for sure. 'Hug the midline' is also known as 'Work from the center'. Picking up on cues is something that a client will build up over time. With so much going on already I prefer to get clients moving first before we add multiple cues.
Oh, and without cueing you would move in a disjointed, disconnected and mindless manner. No-one wants that. Especially not me.
Protect and Support
The first and most important PHA is the abdominal action. Joseph Pilates put a lot of emphasis achieving correct posture for which abdominal control is essential. However for a lot of people that is exactly their weakest link. For various reasons our abdominals are not engaged in daily activities anymore.
But, we need a strong abdominal wall to ensure the protection of vital organs and support the anterior aspect of our spine. There is no skeletal structure protecting the abdominal area and its organs, unlike the lungs and heart which are protected and supported by the ribs of the spinal cord in the spinal column, so it falls to the job of the abdominal muscles.
When we talk about the abdominal muscles in Pilates we mean the deepest ones and the muscles anterior to the spine - Illiacus, Psoas, Transversus Abdominis and Internal & External Obliques - as opposed to the superficial abdominal muscles that are also known as the six-pack (Rectus Abdominus). The latter are nice from an aesthetic point-of-view but we should't get so obsessed with them.
In and Up
When I say 'Pull your abdominals in and up' I want my clients to: (1) Draw INwards towards your spine to tone and recruit the abdominal wall, and (2) Lift - UP - the spine and create space between the vertabrae.
Well, easier said than done I hear you say (or with massive eye roll). When you just start with Pilates you have no idea what this all means or how to do do this. Some of you suck your belly in or tilt your pelvis backwards. It is quite common that you struggle to perform this abdominal action and it will take time before you get it and are able to feel this action happen deep inside.
Classical Pilates will take you through a strict set of exercises which all help you find those deeper lying abdominal muscles. And I will repeat those cues until you are doing it automatically.
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Marco Dingemans is a qualified Classical Pilates instructor