Shape Up for Summer! Awesome Abs & an Incomparable Core

flat-abs-fastWhether or not you plan on baring your midriff this summer, you can never go wrong with exercises to flatten your abs and strengthen your core.  But don’t just start doing crunches!  The secret to flat abs lies in the proper activation of all the abdominal muscles, not just the vanity muscles on the surface.  Here are some tips to get you flat abs fast, just in time for summer!

We all know “six pack abs” look like, but this refers to just one muscle, the rectus abdominis.  Underneath the rectus abdominis, there are three more distinct layers of abdominal muscles that can be targeted to create amazing abs and a super strong core.  Thus, the best bet for an ab-flattening, waist tightening, core energizing workout is to target all of these muscles with a variety of exercises that move the body in different planes of motion and recruit the fibers of the upper and lower abdominal muscles!

Let’s start from the inner muscles and move to the outer muscles:

Transversus Abdominis (also written as transverse abdominis or “TA”):  This is the muscle that, when targeted effectively, will give you super flat abs, and also create support for your lower back.  While ideally one should keep their transversus abdominis engaged throughout their Pilates repertoire, this can be difficult at first!

If you have a hard time remembering to keep your TA engaged during your Pilates workouts, there are a couple of simple exercises that you can do to tap into this very important muscle. We also suggest our Pelvic Placement technique video for a thorough explanation of how to support the pelvis and engage the TA. To view this video, click here.

1)  Supine (lying on your back):  Make sure that your pelvis and spine are neutral, with your knees bent, feet a comfortable distance away from your hips.  Place your fingertips just inside your hip bones.  Draw up the muscles of the pelvic floor as you draw in the abs, careful not to over-engage the abs or change the shape of the spine (both of which will recruit the internal obliques as well as the TA.)

2)  Prone (face down) on All Fours:  With hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips, ensure that your pelvis and spine are neutral.  Inhale to prepare, then exhale and draw your navel to the front wall of your spine away from the floor, without changing your spinal shape.  Hold for 2-3 breaths, then relax and repeat.

3)  Side Lying:  Lie on your side with your head resting on your outstretched arm, aiming to bring your body into one long line from your ankles to the top of your head.  Place your top hand on your top leg.  Without changing your position at all, flatten your abs, and, if possible, lift your legs a little bit off the floor.  (This will engage your glutes too, of course!)

Because the Transversus Abdominis compresses the abdominal contents when it contracts and is not a muscle with a directional pull, your spine will not and should not change shape, even when you fully engage it.

Internal & External Obliques:  These muscles work in tandem, so for practical Pilates purposes, we will not separate them.  The obliques flex the spine (bend us forward), laterally flex the spine (bend us sideways), rotate the spine (twist right or left).  Thus, to sufficiently target the obliques, exercises need to incorporate all of the above spinal motions.  Here are some suggestions for effectively zapping the obliques!

Flexion:  Half Roll Down, Hundreds, Roll Over Hip Lift

Side Bending:  Side Leg Lift Series 3, Side Plank, Side Bends

Rotation:  Spine Twist, Obliques Roll Back, Saw

Rectus Abdominis:  This muscle is our “six pack” muscle…. and also the strongest flexor of the trunk.  We Pilates folk like to encourage proper recruitment of the obliques as well as the Rectus Abdominis, but we cannot deny that at the end of the day, the Rectus is still our strongest flexor!

Exercises to target the rectus abdominis:  Roll Up, Rolling Like a Ball, Roll Over and for a challenge, Jack Knife, Corkscrew and all the Teasers.

For a detailed description of any of the exercises listed above, visit www.pilatesonfifth.com/video and find the applicable podcast!

All original Pilates, classical Pilates and contemporary Pilates workouts target the abdominal muscles, but it is up to you – especially if you attend a large class or do videos – to make sure you are keeping your belly button pinned to your spine to the best of your ability.  For two short workouts that target all these abdominal muscles (and more!) and really pack a punch, try Flat Abs in Fifteen or Arms & Core workout in the Strong, Svelte & Savvy Series on UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com!

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April 29, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. 1 comment.

We have a new love in our lives: ActivCore. It’s AMAZING!!!!

Many of us here at Pilates on Fifth just went through the training, and the system is truly revolutionary — you can’t escape your core! Gone are the days of “I don’t feel this at all”, or “Where am I supposed to feel this again?” The nanosecond we performed even one exercise in the ActivCore repertoire, we knew—beyond a shadow of a doubt—what muscle was being targeted. And this is the same with everyone…. No one has to tell you!

activcorefex-029It may sound a little hokey, but watching people experience ActivCore for the first time is a little like observing evangelical ministry. Across the board, there is an “I BELIEVE” moment at which people either discover a muscle that has been dormant all too long or feel a muscle being worked more intensely than they ever have. Read more testimonials here!

We Pilates folk naturally love ActivCore because of its incredible focus on, you guessed it, the core! We also love that it emphasizes the deep stabilizers of each joint to reinforce proper biomechanics. This attention to alignment and proper firing patterns makes us very happy, but others have a different reason for loving ActivCore. The rest of the bunch love it because the work is so incredibly intense. SUPER intense. Because the target muscles as well as the deep stabilizers of both the joint and the core work synergistically in any given exercise, the muscle work feels compounded — exponentially! Click here for some videos!

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In the essence of safety, your instructor will start you off with a very do-able version of an exercise. However, think before you say, “That’s too easy, can you make it harder?”, because the answer is “YES, WE CAN! AND WE WILL!” And you will feel it! It’s an intensity that we rarely get to experience – so targeted, so “core-centric” (our new word for the blog), and so different from anything you’ve ever done before!

activcorefex-053In fact, with ActivCore, the possibilities abound. Even with one simple exercise, there are dozens and dozens of ways to make it easier, harder, more intense, less intense, etc. Because of this, users build strength very quickly! Charting progress is fun and easy, because it’s both swift and remarkable.

We now have three ActivCore stations  at our studio, so if you’re in or around New York, come on in! Just mention that you would like to include ActivCore in your session. You can even mix and match and do a little Pilates spiced with a little ActivCore. We will customize it for you.

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If you are not in NYC, just visit www.ActivCore.com. There they list the other studios that feature this amazing new system, and they also have all sorts of groovy information and videos about the entire program. If you would like your studio or the studio you attend to look into acquiring ActivCore, we’d love to hear from you and will be happy to answer questions! Just reach us at activcore@pilatesonfifth.com or call 212-687-3787.

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January 16, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . ACTIVCORE®, Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

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. Leave a comment.