Classical Pilates – Series of 5 Abdominal Exercises
The series of 5 ‘Ab’ exercises is part of Joseph Pilates classical repertoire and if done with focus, precision and attention to breathing, it can be a superb routine for your core.
I love this video by Lottie Murphy who is also a Body Control Pilates teacher. She does really lovely demo’s with clear and helpful instruction. Take note of how she maintains a brilliant curl up, eyes fixed on the same point but still with enough freedom in the neck to turn to speak to camera!
When we’ve been doing this series in class a few common issues come up which prevent us from getting the full benefit of the movements:
- Focus on the exhale, really empty your lungs using your core muscles including pelvic floor and diaphragm, and combine with the action of the ribs closing down and knitting together. Use this breath to reinforce a great neck position allowing the shoulders to remain wide on your back rather than rising up and shortening your neck. When you breath in it should feel effortless having created the vacuum, all you need to do is direct the air into the sides and back of your ribs.
- Try not to match your breathe to your movements – INSTEAD match your movements to your breathe! Go slow with precision, you’ll get much more out of the exercises and you can aim to build a bit of pace once alignment, breathing and strength feel good.
- Lottie mentions imprinting the lumbar spine if you struggle to keep neutral, and she’s quite right. Arching the back would be the movement to avoid, but it does switch off core engagement a bit. So you may want to consider keeping neutral but limiting how low you take your limbs so they’re not as heavy (ie limit your range), to do this you just direct your limbs more towards the ceiling with the aim of taking them lower as you get stronger.
- Single Leg Stretch – don’t compress the knees, think of guiding the knee towards the shoulder whilst lengthening the opposite leg away getting a balance through the pelvis to help maintain stability. Hip flexion = hip extension.
- Double Leg Stretch – keep the legs connected for stability, only lowering them as far as you can keep a comfortable neutral spine. The arm movement is like Arm Circles, so keep the arms slightly forward of the shoulder joint and this will help you maintain a comfortable flexed position.
- Single Straight Leg Stretch (Scissors) – Traditionally in this exercise the leg being eased towards the torso would be pulsed in twice on the same breathe. This can help give you a better curl up, but requires quite a bit more control and co-ordination so don’t add that yet – think of it as another progression, something to aim for. Whichever version you’re doing think of the movement coming from the hips. If your legs can’t straighten just try to lengthen as best you can but not at the expense of pelvis or spinal alignment. Check you’re in a good ‘curl up’ and hold the leg proximal (closer) to the body as Lottie suggests.
- Double Leg Lowers – this can be really challenging with the legs straight above the pelvis, Toe Taps are a great prep or alternative, so make sure you’re ‘in tune’ with your body. Recognise when something doesn’t feel like a good movement – if Lottie can have a stiffer day then so can we! As with the previous movement make sure it comes from the hips whichever version you’re doing today, and if you can’t touch the floor without losing control of your lumbar spine, DON’T.
- Criss Cross – this is a combo of Single Leg Stretch and Oblique Curl Up. I like to think of the shoulder motion to be similar to Hip Rolls – instead of transferring the weight across the back of the pelvis from hip to hip, transfer the weight across the mid back from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. To do this keep a nice curl up and use your oblique muscles to rotate you. This will help to stabilise the pelvis and lower torso. Keep an open chest and try Lottie’s cue with the elbows, it really works.
Enjoy your practice and remember – it’s the journey, not necessarily the end product that will benefit us the most – so move with awareness and understanding!!! x
NB. If you have osteoporosis there are safer exercises to strengthen your core so speak to your Pilates teacher for advice, it may still be ok to do the series of 5 but with some modification.