The secret to flat abs and a healthy spine

hundredsAs I was climbing into bed last night, I was pondering the best way to write about proper abdominal usage.  I figured I’d think of something, so assumed my usual supine position, snuggled close to my two bulldogs and drifted off to sleep.  Then, in the wee hours of the morning, I was awakened by the weight of one of my (hungry) 45 pound bulldogs traipsing across my stomach to lie on my torso and exfoliate my skin (a proven method for getting me up to feed them).  Instinctively, I tightened my abs and pushed OUT to prevent her dagger-like paw from impaling my liver, pancreas, stomach or any other vital organ.

As I deliriously poured some kibble into the bowl, it hit me!  We humans KNOW what to do to protect our organs but don’t know what to do to protect our lower backs!  Clearly, with a bulldog on your stomach, you’re going to tighten your abs and push OUT — so obvious, right?  But to protect your lower back, you must PULL IN the abdominal muscles and keep the belly-button glued to the front wall of the spine.  If it’s not initially obvious, think of it this way:  to protect your lower back, you want the abs to be as close to the spine as possible.  So pull in!

“Pulling in” targets the deepest layer of the 4 abdominal muscles, the transversus abdominus.  The transversus abdominus, or “TA,” wraps around the abdominal cavity like a corset or girdle with horizontally running fibers that compress the abdominal contents when contracted.  We won’t go into the debate currently looming in the Pilates/kinesiology world regarding its role in stabilizing the core, but we will tell you this.  If you focus on keeping your belly button drawn to the front wall of your spine through all of your abdominal work (this includes crunches, push-ups, etc.) you will see a dramatic difference in core strength.  Our clients have experienced great success focusing on this deep muscle, instead of just the Rectus Abdominus (the “six pack” muscle) or the Obliques.


Do:  Keep your abs flat!                     Don’t:  Let them pop!

Try this:  do “the Hundreds” and follow the directions exactly.  Can you keep you abs FLAT, with your belly-button pulled to the spine the whole time (see the picture on the left above).  Or do your abs “pop” halfway through (as in the picture on the right)?  If they do, a great way to start training is to keep the knees bent for exercises like “The Hundreds” until the endurance of transversus abdominus increases.

After years of teaching, I know that the idea of “pulling in” and not “pushing out” can be confusing, but learning to pull in will do wonders for your abdominal strength and your lower back, not to mention a flatter stomach and a more defined mid-section!

Just getting started with Pilates or want to brush up on technique?  Try “My First Pilates Workout” at!


March 9, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . ACTIVCORE®, Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, Postings.

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