Those Pesky Ribs – Poppin out all over the place!

February 4, 2009 at 1:38 am 18 comments

Those pesky ribs.  They poke out of your client! And what do you tell them?  You say “Close your ribs”.  I don’t mind saying that that is simply bad cueing.

What?!  How rude of me!  How terrible!  What an insult!  I just told you that you cue badly! 

It’s just that it’s mindless cueing.  You were taught to say that, but whoever taught you didn’t understand well enough.  It’s time you understood so you can progress.  Your think your clients’ ribs are open, but there’s nothing to close.  Consider what’s really going on: 

You see ribs poking out of the front of your client’s body.  Do you also see the tight middle back?  Do you understand why the ribs are poking out of the front? 

Ribs poke out because abdominals are weak and back muscles are tight (and weak) and the breath is incomplete.  Yup. 

So, what needs to happen? 

We must remember that abdominals run around from the spine all around to the front of the body.  They also run up and down and criss-cross from the pubic bone and pelvis all the way in to the lower ribs.  Ah ha!  The lower ribs!  We have abdominals there…in those ribs! 

So, we need to cue our clients to connect in to their abdominals all the way in to their lower ribs. 


That middle back.  What do we do with that?  We have to cue our client to breathe in to their backs!  If they stay strong in the front, then they can use their lungs to stretch their backs and sides from the inside out!  It takes breath to open the back like this!  Yes…it’s a coordination that takes strength of body and mind.  It takes time to develop. 

So, connect in the abdominals all the way in to the lower ribs, breathe in to the middle back and…lengthen up!  Yes…always lengthen.  Another action to coordinate. 

There are 3 actions!  (More, actually, but 3 that are easy to see!)  Connect in your upper abdominals, breathe in to your middle back and lengthen your spine up! 

Wow!  That’s what I call “an expensive cue”.  It’s a cue that takes effort and understanding on the part of the teacher and effort from the client.  It takes time for your client to accept the cue and make changes, but that’s why it works. 

“Close your ribs” doesn’t work.  All it does is reverse the incorrect curve in to another incorrect curve.  Instead…take time to understand what the pathology of the imbalance is and give corrective cues that work.  You will not see immediate changes to the ideal spine.  Of course not.  It takes time.  They will approach the ideal over time. 

Be patient.  Cue wisely.  Allow your client to develop. 

With that…there is no need to even cue this rib/back/breath connection until your client has a really good command of her/her abdominals already.  Without this connection will just suffer in confusion and frustration…and so will you.  This is a solid intermediate cue.  It’s multi-tasking and demands a great amount of coordination, concentration and abdominal strength to achieve. 

I highly recommend coming in for a session and feeling what it is that I’m talking about.  I will gladly teach you this with my words and hands.  This works.  Not just for the short term, but for the long term, balancing your client’s body when the client is ready for this complex cue. 

It’s all about the long term.  No one gets the ideal of any exercise or cue immediately.  No one.  Give quality cues that as a team you and your client will work with to develop over time. 

***As always, if you wish to have a dialogue about this subject or any other, e-mail me or comment on this blog!  Thank you for reading!  I clearly enjoy writing!***

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Expectations: It’s About Growth – Not Perfection Go to what scares you the most!

18 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Melania  |  February 8, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    finally! somebody said it, so nicely and clearly. how many times have I been told to “close” my ribs… and had the some instructor’s thumb and index fingers close them for me. I’ve always hated it and argued against that cue: how do you expect me to breathe IN if I close my ribs? This cue has been translated in ALL languages literally. It means nothing, and in fact all instructors to whom I would ask “why” they could never give me an answer (as they had just been taught that without being given a proper explanation of what needed to happen). Well done for a much needed clarification.

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  August 17, 2009 at 3:20 am

      I appreciate your reading this blog and sharing your thoughts! Thank you! Let’s work hard, together, to teach what we mean and understand what we’re saying! Thank you!

    • 3. M  |  May 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm

      ^^ What she said.

  • 4. Kate  |  March 15, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Hi Shari, just read this one year later….wow thanks wonderful explanation….would love more cueing ideas thanks, you’ll be missed here on the West Coast!

    • 5. theverticalworkshop  |  March 19, 2010 at 3:03 am

      Thank you, Kate! I hope you’re well!

  • […] Those Pesky Ribs – Poppin out all over the place!2009/02/04 […]

  • 7. James  |  August 24, 2011 at 5:52 am

    I´m not at all sure I´m going to stop cueing “close your ribs”. If it´s never explained or used lazily then, sure, it doesn´t say much, but in the middle of an exercise, when I want a short-hand to remind someone to do something which I have already explained and they have already understood but are just not doing, then it fits well.

    I will, however, think about using it less 🙂

    • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  August 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

      It’s your absolutely right to cue however you wish. Do what you want, indeed, but now you just have some new information to deepen your choices in teaching. You are not the sort to follow blindly, which I respect highly. As it appears you already are, I encourage you to allow this new perspective on ribs to bring you to new thoughts of your own!

      You’re in London, yes? I was just there in June presenting workshops to a wonderful group of teachers. I will return in June 2012, if not sooner, to teach more workshops and hope I might meet you and your colleagues then! Until then…I look forward to some good e-discussions!

      All the best,
      – Shari

  • 9. CathB  |  October 29, 2011 at 5:10 am

    Sorry, James, but I disagree. ‘Shorthand’ cueing is lazy, ineffective cueing. You can find a qussioick way to cue which has the desired results if you allow yourself to experiment a bit and to let go of old teaching habits. As teachers we have a responsibility to continually scrutinize our teaching methods and to weed out our bad habits. You’re not doing anyone a favour with ineffective cueing.

    Shari, I focus my clients’ attention on the back of the ribcage. If they are supine, they will be able to feel (through the tactile feedback provided by the mat) how tense or relaxed the lower thoracic and t-l junction is. By encouraging them to ‘sink’ into the mat or to ‘feel the heaviness of their spine and ribcage into the mat’, without pushing the ribcage down, they gradually learn to release the tight thoracic musculature / diaphragm / lumbar musculature which is responsible for the appearance of poky ribs. Teaching correct spinal articulation and correcting imbalances in the spinal muscles is the way to correct poky ribs. paying attention to the t-l junction is also crucial. Poky-ribbed clients, in particular, need to ensure that there is no compression in that area – especially in ‘chest lifts / ab preps’!

    • 10. theverticalworkshop  |  November 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Hello, Catherine,

      Please be gentle on other commenters. You are welcome to disagree, of course, but I will encourage you to encourage and express yourself here at the same time.

      With that, let me share a bit more about ribs. I understand what you’re staying about “sink”ing into the mat…finding the heaviness of the ribs on the mat, but that’s a bit of what I’m asking people to work to avoid. I am hoping to teach people that we’re not looking to tilt the ribcage and sink it anywhere or press it anywhere. Instead, what I hope for people to learn from this article is that it’s important to do something else that is essential to a healthy spine when addressing the ribcage: Work instead to connect the upper abdominals at the base of the rib…”engage the muscles at your lower ribs/upper abdominals” rather than “close” or “knit”…plus…breathe into the back ribs (to open the muscles and bones from the inside out) and lift the vertebrae apart from each other. This is what really needs to happen. It is not easy, but it is the only effective manner of addressing the issue. Because the issue is not poking out in front, so we need to close them and compress the back. The issue is disconnected in the front because the back is tight and compressed and the diaphragm is being blocked from doing its full work and effort. We need connection, openness, breath and space.

      I hope that clarifies even more.

      Thank you!
      – Shari

  • […] Those Pesky Ribs – Poppin out all over the place!2009/02/04 […]

  • 12. Betsy Lorimer Ruiz  |  April 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks, Shari, great reminder. I’ve been working with a client that is barrell chested and has a hard time stabilizing after a few reps. What would you suggest (props, cues) for an excecise like mid-back or the 100 on the reformer?
    Pilates ActivCore Studio

    • 13. theverticalworkshop  |  April 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm

      Hi, Betsy,
      Thank you for reading this and letting me know!
      Now, this client of yours with a barrel chest. What is he having a difficult time stabilizing? His pelvis, spine, legs, rib cage/thoracic spine? I want to make sure that I give you the right answer to your question. And which exercises are you referring to? You mentioned The Hundred…others?
      – Shari

  • 14. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Those Pesky Ribs – Poppin out all over the place!2009/02/04 […]

  • 15. The Vertical Workshop's Pilates Teacher Blog  |  December 6, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    […] Those Pesky Ribs – Poppin out all over the place!2009/02/04 […]

  • 16. Chantal Poulin  |  April 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Hi Shari, I understand what you’re trying to make us realize in I think I get the pattern while inhaling. But I read nothing about what happens during the exhale. In Stott, during the exhale, we cue to gently let the lower ribs get closer together as the diaphragm closes into the rib cage with a slight shift towards the ASIS while keeping the abs activated in order to keep the neutral position of the spine.
    Can you share your thoughts on this?

  • […] to see ribs poking out in the front as a bad thing and to clip them together.  In my article “Those Pesky Ribs Poppin’ Out All Over The Place”  I talk considerably about what this is and how to honestly and effectively address the imbalances […]

  • 18. Sarika  |  June 17, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    Hi , fantastic article. I am working on correcting my diastasis recti above belly button. I am using diaphragmatic ribcage breathing. So what exactly you nean by engaging upper abs muscles( near lower ribs) ? Should we contract them slightly so that ribs can open sideways ? In that case should our belly go out( above belly button ) and then will our pelvic floor muscles will relax( intra abdominal pressure) a lot of articles say your abs should be still. I find that not so true. But I am confused about should rectus abdominis be relaxed while inhaling or it should be contracted slightly. Please reply. Thanks 🙂


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