Pilates and the Secret to Flat Abs

Take a look in the mirror and turn to the side. Pull your naval to your spine as much as you can. (Make sure you don’t expand your ribcage while doing this, just pull your abs in as much as you can.) Is this the way you are doing your abdominal exercises? Or are you allowing the abs to “pop” and pushing out against the abdominal wall? If you want flat abs fast, then pull IN!! Note the two pictures: in Picture A, the subject is pulling in the abdominals. (Some books use the phrase “drawing in”.) Even during Hundreds, the abs remain “IN” with the belly button pinned to the front wall of the spine. Now look at Picture B. The same subject is demonstrating what pushing OUT against the abdominal wall looks like. Do you see the difference? Click here for our podcast on this topic!

Though the aesthetics of flat abs is what we all can see and understand, the real reason for “pulling in” the abdominals is to activate the Transversus Abdominis. The Transversus Abdominis is the deepest layer of the four abdominal muscles and its chief role is to protect the lumbar spine. The fibers of the Transversus Abdominis, or “TA”, run horizontally, encircling the torso like a corset. When engaged, it compresses the abdominal contents and provides support for the lower back. Unlike the three other abdominal muscles (from deepest to most superficial, the internal obliques, the external obliques, and the rectus abdominis), the Transversus Abdominis is a muscle of endurance, not a muscle of strength. Additionally, while the three more superficial muscles mobilize the spine into flexion, lateral flexion and rotation, the TA does not play a part in mobilizing the spine.

The Abdominal Muscles

The Abdominal Muscles

AAAAAAH! What does all this mean?! How do you know whether or not your TA is working? You watch for popping abs! Try this: the next time you are in your favorite Pilates mat class or doing your favorite Pilates DVD and you do the Hundreds, keep an eye on your abdominals (without over-flexing your neck, so glance down only periodically)! Can you keep your belly button pulled to your spine throughout the exercise? Or do your abs pop at some point? If your abs pop, your TA has stopped working.

How do you strengthen your Transversus Abdominis, get those flat abs you want AND protect your lower back in the process? More Pilates!! Actually, that’s not entirely true. Many exercises can become “flat ab exercises” now that you know about the star role of the TA. Remember, the TA is a muscle of ENDURANCE… so you can only increase its endurance (ability to contract over time) and not its strength. Thus, when you discover your abs have popped, you MUST go back to an easier version of the exercise, re-establish, and re-start. For example, if your abs pop halfway through the Hundreds, bend your knees and pull your belly button to the spine to re-establish the connection. Then, you can decide to keep them bent OR to straighten them again ONLY if you can keep the connection!!

So good luck, follow these steps… and say hello to FLAT ABS!


December 10, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates Posts.

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