My teenage sons like to walk around the house showing off their “six-packs.” But when a coach recently told one of them, despite his ripped abs and well-defined muscles, that he needed a stronger core for a faster and more powerful kick, he was dumbfounded.
Unfortunately, there are many problems with traditional ab workouts like crunches, sit ups, etc. They are easy to do badly, with poor technique or by recruiting muscles from the wrong place, like your hip flexors or lower back, for example, and they also often target more superficial (surface level) muscles and rarely hit those critical deep core muscles that support the spine. These problems can lead to more problems, especially in your back and hips.
“Imagine your spine as a multi-segmented flagpole, “ says Colleen Craig, author and Pilates instructor from Toronto. She describes the long superficial muscles of the trunk as similar to the guy wires that balance the flagpole. These large muscles span greater distances than the deep muscles and allow for larger range of actions such as arching the back or bending the spine. The small spinal muscles support the links between each segment of the pole. These are the stabilizing muscles. If these small, deep muscles do not perform effectively, the entire flagpole becomes unstable.
Joseph Pilates referred to these large superficial and deep muscles of your spine and torso as your “girdle of strength” or powerhouse. He believed that the stronger the powerhouse, the more powerful and efficient the movement. As such, Pilates exercises all begin by gently pulling your navel in and up under your ribs to help engage those deep stabilizing muscles in your core. And the results can be life altering. As one of my male clients wrote recently, “Before [I took Pilates], I had twice herniated a disc in my lower back and I was living my life in fear of it happening again. After doing Pilates for the past year and a half I live my life differently now. I feel strong physically and mentally….Pilates literally changed my life.”
The good news is, Pilates sessions are offered everywhere. You can attend a mat class or find a good instructor (I prefer those classically trained) who offers sessions on Pilates-specific equipment, like the Reformer and Cadillac. I am happy to report that my son has started taking lessons from me. And for those of you who have made it to the end of this article, and who want to try Pilates, email me under the “Contact tab,” on this website and reference this article for a free session to try it out. I’m happy to help you get started on your journey to stronger abs and a healthier back and spine!