Improving Abdominal Strength & Spine Articulation – Pilates Fitness Tips

by | Dec 7, 2010 | Pilates, Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 2 comments

The Benefits of Adding Pulsing to Pilates Exercises

It’s always a challenge to get a better Roll Up, Neck Pull, and Teaser, or Short Box Round on the Reformer with the full backbend and up.  Here are a few tips and thoughts to add a little extra to your Ab work and improve articulation so you can get the most from these and all of your Pilates exercises.

To improve flexion

(bending your spine) the back has to relax/release while the abdominals work harder.  Practice feeling this by adding 4 levels of little “pulses” to your exercises.


  • Roll the pelvis backwards almost to the waist on the mat.  Pulse 10-30 times bending two inches below the navel (L5). Feel & watch the low abs pull in while the low back relaxes and falls backwards in space deepening the low scoop.  Focus on feeling the pivot point at the bottom of the lumbar spine.
  • Roll back farther – waist to the mat.  Pulse 10-30 times bending two inches above the navel (L1). Continue to feel the back relax and back bones drop backwards while watching the low and middle abs pull in and back as the head and shoulders bob forward.
  • Roll back farther – pelvis, waist, and bottom ribs to the mat.  Pulse 10-30 times feeling the front of the bottom ribs dropping backwards in space as the pivot point for the pulse. (T-12).  Keep the lower back to the mat and feel it drop more as you pulse up.
  • Stay with the bottom ribs to the mat.  Pulse 10-30 as the upper back relaxes the bottom ribs will get closer to the floor, but this time focus on feeling the shoulder blades spread apart while the breastbone drops and slides down the front of your shirt.

What Do I Do with My Arms While I’m Pulsing?

Hold the arms steady and strive not to use them to initiate the forward momentum of the pulse.  Let the back bones dropping backwards, and the abs pulling in and down be the reason you are “bobbing” slightly.

  • Easy – Reach the arms straight forward over the legs.
  • Moderate – “I Dream of Jeanie” or “Indian Chief”  Cross arms and hold up horizontal to the floor.  Reach out through the elbows while pulsing.
  • Challenging – Hands behind the head.  This will help to support the neck more, especially on the lower 2 levels of pulses.  But behind the head removes the weight-lever assistance of the arms.  Be sure you are not using the arms to initiate the pulse up.
  • Super Challenge – Arms straight overhead by ears, thumbs hooked.  Oh, My!!!  If you can do this and do it well,  you are a Pilates rock-star!

Which Exercises Can I Practice My Pulses On?

I recommend starting this with a ½ Roll Back, so the knees are bent and feet flat on the floor.  Then play with doing pulses during your Roll Up, Neck Pull, Teaser during Matwork.  Or add pulses to the Roll Down on the Cadillac, Rowing I and Short Box Round on the Reformer.  You can also add pulses to Rolling back exercises on the Arc Barrel/Spine Corrector.  Or on the chair, bending forward you can pulse on Washer Women and the Pike Up.  Look at the exercises you’re doing to determine if there’s a spot to add the variation of “Pulsing” and see if it might add value to improving abdominal strength or spine articulation for the exercise.

**You don’t have to “pulse” on every exercise in a workout!  Pick one or two exercises and add this as a variation to help you improve your strength and flexibility.

Do I Start from a Sitting Position or Lying Down?

Start seated and let gravity help you.  We actually get stronger during the rolling back portion of these exercises.  (With the eccentric contraction phase of the abdominals).  Practice pulsing backwards first,  perhaps pulse back all 4 levels and repeat 3-5 times.  Then when you’re ready for more of a challenge, go back 4 levels, and up 4 levels, and repeat 2-3 times.

There’s lots of room for modification with reps of pulses and the number of times you repeat the exercise so you can work at your own pace and keep challenging yourself for improvements!

I Need Help and Don’t Have a Roll Down Bar at Home!

Use a theraband or exercise tubing and loop it around your feet.   Then hang on with your arms straight and let the band assist you.   Just be careful that it doesn’t slip off and whack you in the face!

Final Thoughts on Pulsing with Pilates

Some of the most challenging Ab work I’ve ever done was in sessions with Kathy Grant at the PMA conferences.  Kathy had an amazing ability to take the work and make it beautifully fluid and agonizingly challenging all at the same time.   I remember doing several exercises in  Kathy’s sessions that  utilized pulsing.  It was fun, and it was hard!

This past October, while I was working with Michael Broeg D.C. from Clearsprings Health Center  he taught me a new series of exercises that also involved pulsing, and I was amazed at how quickly my body got stronger with just a couple of exercises that involved little “bobs.”

Give it a whirl, or a pulse, or a bob…and then drop me a note and let me know what you discover!

  • How many pulses could you do the first time you tried on a ½ Roll Back?
  • How many days a week did you add a pulsing exercise to your workout?   1, 2, 3, or more?
  • How quickly did you notice improvements in your strength and flexibility?


For more an easy, efficient at home workout? Check out the Centerworks© book Pulse Power: The Daily Dozen, now available for digital download.

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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