***This article is the 2nd in a series of Abs vs. Thighs to improve core strengthening. Click on the link, If you missed the first article “Abs vs. Thighs: Which Muscles Are Really Working To Strengthen Your Core”to start at the beginning of this series for all the details!
Use this easy preparatory Pilates exercise to get the Abs to work more and the fronts of the legs to do less for effective core strengthening.
Getting our Abs to work more and the fronts of our legs to do less for effective abdominal strengthening is a critical component for pelvic-lumbar stabilization, proper breathing, better hip mechanics for walking & running, improved posture, and reduced low back pain.
The exercises and awareness tips I’m sharing with you are things that have helped me in my own journey to get out of my Quads and into my Abs.
And so far, every client I have progressed through this series of exercises has achieved a greater understanding and awareness of what to do, and how to do it for improved form and function.
Once the awareness is there, every exercise whether the legs are held up in the air, or the feet are supported on the ground, should be executed with a similar amount of support. (That’s not to say your Quadriceps muscles and the Rectus Femoris muscle in particular should never be involved) It just shouldn’t be the first muscle activating when it’s time to use your Abs! The less it does on certain exercises, like the Pilates Roll Up and Neck Pull in Matwork, the easier it will be to articulate through the spine, move the pelvis, and easily (and successfully) get up and back down to the mat.
The First Preparatory Exercise To Find Your Abs And Relax Your Hip Flexors:
Tabletop Prop Exercise
- Lay on your back and prop the legs up on a chair, box, or Pilates Arc Barrel
- Place your hands at the crease where the leg folds from the hip, or place your fingertips on the pubic bone.
- To prep – Lay quietly and breathe, focusing on relaxing the legs and letting them lay heavy on your support. (chair, box, barrel). You may have to just practice this a few times before progressing.
- To work – Keeping the thighs COMPLETELY relaxed – Inhale-into the back, exhale and pull the low abs up, in, and back towards the mat. Start the abdominal contraction from the pubic bone up, being sure the pubic bone stays still under your hands and the front of the thighs remain completely relaxed.
Think about allowing the thigh bones to lay heavy on the Hamstrings, and the legs lay heavy on your support while the Abs pull away from the legs.
Helpful Hints to Improve the Tabletop Prop Exercise:
- Begin with the head flat on the mat. Just focus on relaxed fronts of thighs while the Abs pull in.
- Progress to a KG curl / 100’s position with the head and shoulders.
- Be sure when you curl up and practice pulling the abs away from the legs that the pubic bone remains in the same still position it was in when your head was down! The front to back of the Pelvic floor has to stay active (pubic bone to tailbone.)
- If your pelvis tucks (posterior tilt) when you pull your abs in – start over! Either the tailbone end of your Pelvic Floor is stronger and tried to do all the work to support the base of your spine. Or not only are you grabbing with your Quads thinking you’re using your abs, but you’re also grabbing with your Glutes! For now, let the whole leg (and butt) stay relaxed while you’re pulling those Abs in.
Challenging and Progressing The Tabletop Prop Exercise:
- Once you’ve mastered this with the knees bent, straighten the legs out and prop them up on your box, a wall, chair, or Pilates Arc Barrel. Repeat the exercise, striving to keep the fronts of the thighs completely relaxed while engaging the abs.
This is a great piece of homework for everybody! Whether you’re a Pilates teacher, Pilates student, or just doing Ab work in fitness classes or during your own workouts, learning how to release the fronts of the thighs while pulling the Abdominals up and in is a key concept for a healthy low back, and proper pelvis/hip mechanics.
What do you notice practicing this exercise? Is it easy? A real challenge? Add this to your workout routine and stay tuned for the 3rd part in this series…we’re going to progress to keeping those abs working and moving the legs without using that Rec. Fem.!
PS. I’m working on some videos for these exercises , but don’t want to slow down the process of sharing info with you! So if you’ve got questions, need more details to figure this out, or just want to share your success story with how this has helped you, please drop me a comment, I’d love to hear from you!
Stay tuned for the part 3 progression – Coming to the Centerworks blog soon….
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