Lower Abdominals: How can we teach our clients (and ourselves) to connect?
It’s not difficult connecting to your upper abdominals. All you have to do is exhale deeply, cough, laugh or round forward. It’s not even that difficult connecting to your middle abdominals. All you have to is “suck” your waist in. But what about your lower abdominals? You know, the ones that pooch out when you want them to plaster in!
First of all, let’s discuss the anatomy of abdominals a big. There are no upper, middle and lower abdominals. IT’s one of those fantastic lies we teach. A great image, but not the truth. Again, it’s trouble when teachers believe the lie and don’t understand the truth; don’t know that the lie is an image or teaching tool. So, let’s get to the truth.
We’ve got Transverse Abdominis, Rectus Abdomininis, Internal Obliques and External Obliques. No where in there do we have upper, middle and lower abdominals. However, we can clearly feel a sectional-like connection or lack of connection. What’s that about and why is it so challenging to connect in that lower area?
Our “Upper” Abdominals are the origins and insertions of abdominals into our ribs. One of the functions of our abdominals is to assist the diaphragm in respiration. Hence…if you’re breathing you’ve already got lots of practice using these. You’ve been connecting with them you’re entire life.
What about “Middle” Abdominals? They’re what we consider our waistband. It seems people can find a solid connection there, too. Is it because everyone’s seen people “suck” their guts in? We’re always trying to make tinier waists? Is it because the transverse abdominis that wraps around your midsection/trunk is a major contributor to exhalation, so, again, that muscle is trained a bit? And, indeed, we focus tremendously on the transverse abdominis in Pilates. That deepest layer of abdominals needs to be very strong to contain our organs (intra-abdominal pressure) and lift them up against gravity.
Then there are those “Lower” Abdominals. You’ve got plenty of abdominal muscle to work there. No less than those upper abdominals, but gravity is a great challenge. The internal obliques originate, the external obliques insert, the rectus abdominis originates, the transverse abdominis originate. Plenty of muscle to work with. However, you have gravity pulling on your intestines (and you have a lot of intestines to manage the weight of), gravity pulling on your bladder, gravity pulling on your entire torso. And you…you have to keep it upright. We’re well trained in pushing our lower abdominals out. We’re meant to be able to bear down multiple times a day, but we’re also meant to connect and lift those abdominals up to contain our organs, lift our spine and take some pressure off of the hip socket.
Now we know why it is difficult to connect. How do we encourage and develop a connection?
First, teachers must cue these abdominals. When we teach, we must make our clients aware that there is a connection to be found. It will take a lot of time to get it, but we must alert them to the possibility. Most people don’t even think about this. They ignore their lower abdominals except to admonish them for not looking the way they dream of them to be! So, first: Awareness!
Next, cue even more. What?! Didn’t I already say cue? Yes. Too much “teaching” is repeating technique over and over. It’s a waste of your and your client’s time. It doesn’t need to look perfect. What they really need is movement of arms, legs and torso while desperately practicing an abdominal connection. So cue more. More than you’d think. Until you think you’re cueing too much…and then cue even more. Get your client to make an abdominal connection.
Cue with words:
Scoop your abdominals in and up
Deepen your abdominals in and up
Draw your navel in and up along the inside of your spine
Notice how all of these cues are “in and up”? It’s the “up” that’s going to eventually get those “lower” abdominals! Remember that gravity is pulling on them. Gravity pulls down. We need to cue up. If you neglect the word “up” in your cueing, you will never lead your clients to work against gravity which is everything in Pilates…and life. Cue “in and up” always…often…incessantly. (I think I’ve made myself clear.)
Cue with images:
Imagine there is a big metal snap and a thick zipper that begin 2 inches below your navel. First, connect that snap from the front right into the inside of your low spine. Then keep that snap shut and pull that zipper up your abdominals and inside of spine. The moment you finish…don’t let it go…do it again.
(Notice how it’s a complex image? It has a beginning, middle and end. It’s more than one sentence. There are no assumptions, yet it is still concise.)
Cue with your hands:
Always with a flat palm, place your palm sideways just below the navel, but not so far that you are getting into “dangerous territory”. Put considerable pressure in and scoop your palm upwards. Teach your client how to use his/her own muscles. Of course, don’t put so much pressure on that you hurt your client. You’ve got to develop a sense of how much pressure to use. If you’re unsure, practice on a colleague or friend. Your hands are a valuable tool.
Be patient, encouraging and repetitive. That’s vital.
Repeat the same exercises each week. If you cue your clients deeply encouraging physical progress, changes will happen. If you skip around every week trying to keep your clients excited…they will never ever make these connections and positive changes. They will get bored and frustrated and so will you. Be patient, repetitive, encouraging and get results by cueing deeply.
The Half-Roll Down is the most precious exercise in Pilates. It’s a simple and wonderful exercise to connect into the abominals and open the lumbar spine. One the lumbar spine more flexible from muscular action, once there is the ability to flex and extend, then there is also the ability to lift and separate those bones from each other. Then there is more flexibility and strength, more ability for lateral flexion, rotation, more lift, etc. The “lower” abdominals connect more. It’s remarkable. Do The Half-Roll Down on yourself and your clients every session, even multiple times, until there is an abdominal connection, lumbar movement and lift. Of course, do not do this exercise on those who it’s contraindicative. If you have any questions about who should do it…ask me.
Let me know when you’ve made your ” lower” abdominal connection!
****I’d love to know your thoughts! Please drop me a comment, question, concern! Enjoy!!!****
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