Using the Core

by Julia
(Kinsley, KS)

My question is regarding keeping your belly pulled in during Pilates exercises.

Do you only pull your belly in during an exhale or do you keep it pulled in pretty much all the time?

For example, on an exercise where you lower your legs from a 90 degree to a 45 degree angle at the same time, do you hold in your tummy when you move your legs down and then back up, or just when pulling your legs up?

Any information you can give me would be helpful.

Jennifer's Response:

Hi Julia and thank you for your question. This is a good question which I hear often from many of my students.

In response to your first question about the breathing. The exhale gives you a solid abdominal contraction where you should feel the deeper transverse abdominal muscles flatten and protect the spine.

The inhale allows an extension up and down the back, the spine should not change during the inhalation, but you should feel an expansion as you breathe into the upper back and ribcage. In effect you are filling up with air without compromising your abdominal connection to keep the spine in a safe neutral position.

During the leg lowers it is important to focus on the breathing yes, but more importantly, instead of tightening the abdominal muscles(which restricts flow and motion of the exercise), a better way to keep the core engaged is to hold it in neutral or a natural spine position.

What this means is, if you focus on keeping your middle ribs or about where your bra strap connects to the mat when you lower your legs you will, not only, keep your abs engaged, but also protect your spine from hyperextending at the same time.

This gives you an abdominal connection without feeling like you have to tense the muscles restricting your breath and movement.

Another visual is to imagine and feel the spine lengthen as you exhale, feeling your tailbone moving down between the thighs and away from the crown of the head. There is a stretching and opening of the spine like a spring stretching out.

Feel this lengthening and flattening with the Hundreds, Single leg stretches, and many of the other classic mat exercises.

Check out this page to find and learn how to position your spine in neutral:

Learn Neutral Back Position

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Jan 30, 2009
Great description
by: Kim McGuire

I am a Pilates instructor, and this is a very clear and understandable explanation about breathing and neutral spine... two of the concepts that are most confusing to Pilates students.

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Pilates Breathing

When breathing in do we expand our abs like a balloon or pull them in?


In Pilates the breath should work like this:

Inhale into your ribs and upper back laterally, and then exhale feeling the ribs knit together and the abdominals and belly flatten or deflate like a balloon.

You do not want to lose your abdominal bracing or neutral spine by puffing out your abs or belly too much when you inhale, but their is some natural expansion without losing the back of your body against the mat.

Check out this page to learn more about Breathing when doing Pilates Exercises.

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