Abdominals. Spine. Why? and Biotensegrity.

January 1, 2015 at 3:49 pm 41 comments

Transverse Abdominis at The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives - Pilates Back Bay - 2013

Transverse Abdominis at The Vertical Workshop Pilates Teacher Intensives – Pilates Back Bay – 2013

Don’t you think that there’s a lot of mixed information out in the blogosphere about what to do and what not to do with abdominals? A lot of people saying that this or that action is bad, but very little information on what is good and what to do instead of the bad actions. Agreed? I’ve stepped back over 2014 and written very little; however, it’s time to step back in.

Let’s get into the abdominals: The necessary actions of the abdominals for all exercise/movement/life modalities…including Pilates (the focus of the blog). Which abdominals to focus on, How and why.

You see, a lot of focus on the abdominals, abs, powerhouse, core in Pilates and other exercise modalities, while well-meaning, miss the point. Even in Pilates of all styles it’s been breezed over, in my estimation. Yes, even the ones where some amount of biomechanics or functional anatomy education is present. If the abdominals, abs, powerhouse, core is so important…it must be the number one focus with true understanding and a devotion to cueing it both internally in yourself and to your clients. Pilates instructors are remarkably well-meaning, but the focus ends up getting dispersed to too many areas of the body before the most important actions are accomplished. Please let me share how it goes:

The inner workings of our bodies, the mechanics, the biomechanics, is based on chemical reactions and appropriate tension of soft tissues. If we just think on the musculoskeletal (including fascia, of course) system, that means that for us to move appropriately (in the desired ways) all of our most commonly recognized soft tissues (fascia, muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones) must have the right amount of inherent/built-in tension to be able to do the task they are required to do. The balance of and integrity of tension in our bodies is called biotensegrity. (See the marvelous website of Dr. Stephen M. Levin www.biotensegrity.com) A healthy body moves and stabilizes (a form of movement) in all aspects via exchanges and alterations of tension in soft tissues in 3 dimensions. Long gone are the days of considering our bodies as full of levers, pulleys and springs with directional forces along the muscle, ligament, tendon, bone directions, balanced out with 90 degree angles like proper physics or mechanics. The living-body’s mechanics is not like that at all. That is how mechanisms work. We are not mechanisms. We are organisms. Our soft tissue comes in and out of all points in every aspect of our bodies in 3-dimensions. Everything literally connected to everything else with the remarkable elasticity of fascia and more. You’ve heard much about fascia over the past handful of years (it is December 2014 as I write this) and you will hear far more in the future. As analytic tools develop we will learn more and more. With that, take note: it is an inner web of 3-dimensional support that connects all parts of our bodies. Not separates…but connects. A completely reactive and adaptive system of soft-tissue tension. Through this we move, think, digest…everything. When the tension is unbalanced or imbalanced due to injury, movement habits, chemical imbalances and more, then dysfunction occurs on small or big scales Any dysfunction, no matter how small, creates a full-body response…because all is connected. You hurt your second finger on your right hand, the tensional web of soft tissues in your body respond to seek a new balance of tension. However, that new balance requires compensations. Those compensations are relatively unnoticed until an action is required affected by those affected areas. Perhaps from your second finger on your right hand, that has altered the tension through your hand to your forearm. The new tension in your forearm has altered the positioning of your radius and ulna. Not enough to hurt, but when you bend your elbow, there is a little click. No big deal. No pain. Just a slight click. Next week, your neck is tight. Maybe it was the bag you carried or maybe (more likely) it’s that finger and the new click. Then you feel your left PSIS. A little SI joint issue. Then your left hamstring seems tight. You stretch it out. You don’t realize that your hamstring is tight because your left side of your pelvis is not anteriorly tilted and when you stretch your hamstring you are straining it. Your left hip tightens, you get plantar fasciitis in that foot…

And around and around we go.

Life happens and compensations happen all of the time. They must. Still, we must work in ways; live in ways, that afford the ability to return to the most balanced tension. Avoiding complicated compensations that ultimately put us into compressive mechanics where leverage and friction are our only options (i.e. osteo-arthritis). The biotensegrity of our bodies is such that our joints are nearly frictionless. Bones never touch bones. Let’s keep it that way.

Wow…and you thought this was just a “Happy New Year” article! A simple: here’s how you should use your abdominals in Pilates.

How, oh, how do we seek a balance of tension? How do we maintain or return our bodies to quality tensegrity? How do we support our natural biotensegrity? We must seek the source of the tensegrity. In my work, I study the thoracolumbar fascia also known as the lumbodorsal fascia. My efforts are to understand the thoracolumbar fascia…I believe it is an invaluable “source” or center of our biotensegrity.. Never heard of the thoracolumbar fascia? Great! Let me be the first to share it with you. It’s been inside of you all along and it’s time to give it the value that it deserves. I like to call it “The Second Brain of Movement”. There will be far more that I shall share about why it is this, but today we will just start with what is most important for your practice and teaching:

Thoracolumbar Fascia

Fig. 1 – Posterior illustration. Thoracolumbar Fascia is represented by the white arrow head at the lumbar spine and sacrum. Then the shaft of the arrow up the spine to the cranium. Image from 3D4medical Muscle System Pro III

Where is the thoracolumbar fascia (TLF)?
The posterior and most superficial part of the TLF has been on every muscle chart you’ve ever seen, but most people have never mentioned it. (See Fig. 1) A primary portion of it is that while arrow-head you see connecting the lower thoracic spine, lumbar spine and sacrum. This area is referred to as the thoracolumbar complex (TLC…and, boy, could it use some more TLC!) that goes from lumbar spine to sacrum all the way under the ischial tuberosities. Now the complete TLF goes all the way up the spine into the cranium and is three-dimensional into the anterior portion of the lumbar spine, at least.

Our primary concern with be the TLF at the lower thoracic spine, lumbar spine and sacrum. You’ll see why in a moment. (Though it’s more TLC, you’ll see that I’ll refer to it as TLF as most do.)

You can see on the posterior side of the body in this illustration (Fig. 1) that multiple muscle groups connect into the TLF. You can see the gluteus maximus (GM), latissimus dorsi (LD), trapezius (T) clearly connect to it. As we delve deeper into it, we’ll see that in three-dimensions (Fig. 2), the TLF has multiple layers where erector spinae (ES), quadratus lumborum (QL), psoas (Ps) and the deepest abdominals (transverse abdominis (TrA) and internal obliques (OI – obliquus internus)) connect into the TLF. Oh…and the lumbar spine including the vertebrae and the discs. Ah…

thoracolumbar fascia transverse cut

Fig. 2 – An illustrated representation of a transverse view of the torso looking down on the cross-section at the L3 level. Notice the multiple layers of the TLF and the muscles that connect directly into it or are connected via the TLF in three-dimensions. Illustration from BandhaYoga.com

So…all muscles (with their soft tissue) that connect into this TLF affect the tension on this remarkable structure of multi-dimensional fascia (with superficial and dense fascia that also includes a remarkable amount of myofibroblasts which actually create their own tension…remarkable!) and the TLF affects all structures that it connects to. Hmm…

A quality balance of tension across the TLF will affect all structures that connect to it and vice versa. Considering that the TLF connects directly to:
gluteus maximus (GM) – leg to pelvis/torso connection
latissimus dorsi (LD)- arm to torso connection
trapezius (T)- shoulder girdle to torso connection
psoas (Ps)- leg to spine/torso connection
quadratus lumborum (QL) – ribcage to pelvis connection
transverse abdominis and internal obliques (TrA & OI) – ribcage to pelvis connection
Lumbar Spine (and the entire spine up to the skull)

And that means that all structures that connect to those affect and create effects upon the TLF and vice versa…


Tension on the TLF

A broad representation of tension from superficial muscles and TLF working together. Green Lines: Shari Berkowitz Illustration: 3D4medical.com

And why do you care? As a Pilates practitioner why should you care? What does this mean to you? (And why do I devote my entire life the TLF and helping people understand it?!) Because when you make a lower TrA and OI connection, then there is a lateral pull on the TLF. That lateral pull/tension is resisted by the TLF (as all soft tissues resist expansion). This pull against each other creates a stiffness of the lumbar spine. Now, that word “stiffness” is desirable in the biomechanics world though in the fitness world it is considered a bad thing. Stiffness in biomechanics means support, stability, integrity. Something that the lumbar spine often lacks in modern world because the balance of tension is off/askew in modern humans. This is a desirable stiffness. This now intrinsic support (stiffness) from the TLF working against and thereby with the lower deeper abdominals (TrA and OI) allows all other structures that are connected to the lumbar spine to be efficient in either assisting in stabilization or mobilization of the lumbar spine. That means that the ES, QL and Ps can all be more efficient in their jobs! They can either help stabilize or mobilize! GM, LD and T will all be more efficient, too. We want these muscles to work more! We want them to work efficiently!

Often in Pilates we hear “don’t use your glutes”, “don’t use your back muscles” however, that’s not what is needed. We need to use them…but we must set up an environment where the muscles can just work naturally. We must create an physical scenario where our muscles work the way that they are meant to. And not just our muscles…all of the systems in our bodies. I’ll say that statement again as I have coined it and will use it time and again: we must create an environment where all parts of our bodies work naturally. At least that’s how I see it.

Fig. 3 - Illustration of an intervertebral disc. Notice the cartilage from the vertebrae above and below. The cartilage secretes fluid that the disc absorbs. That is how the disc maintains hydration. Illlustration credit: Unknown. My apologies.

Fig. 3 – Illustration of an intervertebral disc. Notice the cartilage from the vertebrae above and below (light brown continuous lines and background). The cartilage secretes fluid that the disc absorbs. That is how the disc maintains hydration.
Illlustration credit: Unknown. My apologies.

Now, all in all, we’ve got to care about space in between each vertebra. We have to take care of our nervous system. (That takes a lot: nutrition, rest, good emotional state and movement.) And what creates that space? Part of it is by the intervertebral discs. And what maintains the discs size and cushiness? Tensegrity (this balance of tension of soft tissues) and movement. (Movement? You thought I was going to say hydration.) What does movement? Directly: Muscles. (Indirectly, a lot of other things.) We care about keeping space between vertebrae for more movement of the spine and, quite importantly, so that the nerve endings that come from the spinal cord can leave easily through the foramen. Hydration of discs only happens with movement as the superior and inferior surfaces of the discs are connected to the vertebrae above and below, respectively. Those vertebrae have a bit of cartilage on these superior and inferior faces that through movement release fluid that is absorbed into the disc. That is how discs get hydrated. All parts of the disc must receive hydration which is one great reason why we need balanced movement of each vertebra segment appropriate to its design (i.e. lumbar vertebral joints can sustain only a limited amount of rotation without damaging shear forces whereas cervical vertebrae allow for and require far more rotation without damage…all within limits, of course). We need forward flexion, back extension, rotation and lateral flexion/side-bending of all joints of the spine. All while maintaining a maximum amount of space between the vertebrae, yet still affording that movement.

That’s mighty refined movement: move while maintaining space. And it has to happen in a flash..all of the time. It’s going to take a lot of practice with the right “Order of Operations” to be able to do that in our modern world that truly does not prepare us to move appropriately. Sitting and looking at a computer or handheld device does not a mover make. Even as a Pilates teacher…there’s got to be more! So…we must practice this sort of movement; this coordination. And that is what Pilates is all about. At least that is how I see it.

Again…how does this apply to you?

When you ask your client to pull her abdominals in…what are you doing and why? How? Which ones? It’s got to be the lower, deep abdominals. The ones that connect to the TLF. So…we need to encourage a lower deep abdominal connection. Transverse abdominis and internal obliques. The lower ones will connect to the TLF. Not the upper. The upper that so many Pilates teachers get caught up in with “close the ribs”, “soften the ribs”, “knit the ribs together”, “melt the ribs”…that is primarily external obliques (OE – obliquus externus). Quite important, but they are secondary to the primary actions of the TrA and OI which are what connect to the TLF that set off a remarkable chain reaction of tension across the TLF that supports the entire body! In a over-simplified statement: the upper abdominal fibers, the OE and rectus abdominis (RA) will be informed by the lower deeper abdominals.

Try this: on yourself, with your abdominals released, place your finger tips on your hip points; your ASIS. Wrap your fingers toward the inner side of them as though you can get in there and feel the inner part of the bone as though you could get to your iliacus (go lightly though and rather superficial) Lightly pull your abdominals in. Do you feel a tug of the tissues under your fingers? Like a theraband/elastic band pulling across from hip point to hip point? This must be accomplished with a stable pelvis; without any movement of your pelvis. If so, that is TLF. Of course, all muscles work all of the time and you cannot isolate any one muscle (you can not isolate any one muscle), but you can do actions that highlight a muscle. And there is TLF. If you don’t feel that tug or your pelvis moved…fear not. That just means that this has to become your focus. How? Not by sitting there with your fingers on your hips trying to make it happen. Rather, when you do your Pilates work, you must seek out those muscles. You will feel them below your navel from hip point to hip point all the way down to your pubis. Indeed, TrA is also above your navel and across your sides to the TLF, but this lower section that connects to the TLF is where you will concentrate your action.

That’s the first action: deepen your lower abdominals. And why? To make a great back muscle connection. Deepen your lower abdominals and separate your lower back bones. Remember this article: “Lift Your Lower Backbones Like Your Life Depends On It…Because It Does“?  If we get that horizontal/lateral tension on the TLF from the deeper lower abdominals (TrA and OI) and the vertical-like tension on the TLF from the muscles of the lumbar spine (ES, QL, Ps) and eventually upward throughout the entire spine, then the tension across the TLF will afford more efficient GM, LD and T and all that they connect with…which means all aspects of our body can be more mobile and able! This is what it’s about!

Well then…how must you cue and “use” the abdominals (which is why I am writing this and why you are reading this):
“Pull your lower abdominals in and up and lift your lower back bones apart” in all exercises at all times.
You see there is no “navel to spine”. That wouldn’t make the correct lateral tension on the TLF
There is no “scoop your abdominals in and up”. That also won’t make the appropriate tension. Though it is a reasonable image when the spine is in light forward flexion. And images are really important. But…it misses the important action of the spinal soft tissues.
There is “no close the ribs”, “soften the ribs”, “knit the ribs” as those would also skip this vital tension on the TLF and always hinders the diaphragm from working efficiently (remember “The Lock Down:  Abdominals…How Much and Which Ones to Engage?“)

It’s likely less stringent and deep feeling at first than you had thought. It’s a muscular, soft tissue and mental coordination that will be light, at first, and develop into something powerfully strong while always remarkably mobile. Like all things: if you get it right away, you simply haven’t gotten it. It takes time to develop. And once it does, freedom of movement with great strength is the result!

How will you develop this? Practice in every single exercise that you do by seeking out that deeper set of lower abdominals on both side (right and left or right left and center) and follow that connection with an upward lift of the lumbar spine. Then keep that going: deepen lower abdominals + lift lumbar spine + deepen lower abdominals + lift lumbar spine + deepen…+ lift…
Until the coordination develops and you delight in the seek to maintain it.

Once the deeper lower abdominals and lumbar muscles pull on that TLF so well that the TLF has great tension to be able to affect those muscles that come at an angle (GM, LD, T)…the entire body can gain efficiency.

This is different than what you’re used to. This is refined. With that, this will be frustrating at first…but will be more satisfying than you could imagine later on. This is the way to achieve your and your clients’ physical goals. First things first. And these are them.

In every single exercise at every level of proficiency: pull your lower deeper abdominals in and up and separate your lower back bones…and all back bones. If you or your client cannot make that lower deeper abdominal connection in an exercise…it is simply not the right exercise for you or your client. That means either a modification is required or eliminate it until that connection develops. Without the lower deeper abdominals, you won’t get to the TLF, the lumbar muscles…and the rest of your body. Efficiency is the name of the game. Nature is efficient. Why wouldn’t we work the way we were designed? Let’s redevelop our natural biotensegrity and our natural coordination or as I refer to it: order of operations. That’s what it’s all about. We’re setting up and environment where all systems of our bodies work naturally. With movement…that means the lower deeper abdominals for the TLF for the lumbar muscles for the rest. Enjoy!

Now…that was a considerable brain-ful. Take your time. Reread. Seek to understand. Practice. And, as always, reach out when you have questions. info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com
– Shari Berkowitz

Workshops: Please see the sidebar with the latest workshop quickest. On http://www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com (if you’re on the site go to the Workshop Calendar page) you’ll see the full listing and scroll down for full information on all things.

Pilates Teacher Intensives: A comprehensive continuing education program. Please go to www.TheVerticalWorkshop.com (if you’re on the site go to the Teacher Intensives page)

Sessions: Email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com to set up an in-person or Skype session.

Workshops at your studio: If you’d like to host workshops, please email me at info@TheVerticalWorkshop.com

All the best and Enjoy!!!
– Shari

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Compassion Expectations

41 Comments Add your own

  • 1. susan pollack  |  January 1, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Love, Love, Love this post Shari! This is the first thing I teach in every class because when I “got ” it, it changed everything ! Thank you!

    • 2. theverticalworkshop  |  January 14, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      Hello, Susan!
      It really does change everything, doesn’t it?! Enjoy!
      – Shari

  • 3. Sarah  |  January 1, 2015 at 4:57 pm

    This is so enlightening thank you. I have had some experience of the importance of creating lift and length through the lumbar spine with abdominal deepening and this article has really developed my understanding. I will definitely be including more cueing to encourage this in my classes. You’ve been quiet for too long Shari, its great to hear from you again!

    • 4. theverticalworkshop  |  January 14, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      Thank you, Sarah!
      I am glad that you’re working with these actions!
      – Shari

  • 5. Sabrina  |  January 1, 2015 at 6:27 pm

    Shari, Thanks for your post on New Years. Could you explain more directly why scooping the low abs to lengthen the low back doesn’t achieve the same goal as pulling in the low abs to lengthen the low back? Semantically they seem awfully similar to me, but you write that scooping as a cue doesn’t achieve the same goal.

    • 6. theverticalworkshop  |  January 1, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      Thank you for asking about this, Sabrina. Actually, what I’m saying is to deepen the lower abdominals and lift the lower back bones. The two phrases, yours and mine, are almost diametrically opposed to each other. Mine is seeking out the action of the TLF and then lumbar muscles (all around) to work to separate the bones all around…even and especially the bodies of the vertebrae. Scooping and lengthening usually encourages a tuck of the tail…a lengthening under and down. Lengthening the back side of the spine and disregarding the front. Also, scoop encourages rectus abdominis and gluteus maximus in non-functional ways. Compression of the lumbar spine is the likely result.

      We must seek a coordination of soft tissues that literally lifts back bones apart from each other with the balance of tension from all soft tissues. Of course, muscles pull bones together, not apart…we want all soft tissues to work to pull in 3-dimensions all over the place to create a separation of back bones on all sides…upward.

      That would also mean that neutral pelvis and the natural curves of the spine are evident in many exercises.
      It would also mean that no matter what exercise you do and whatever position your spine is in…you’re working for the same separation all around the back bones.

      Now, we may be doing the same thing, but if you really consider it, the action of the abdominals that we need to focus on have zero scoop affect. If we are using that word as an image or an action…they are simply the wrong images and actions. You are not wrong for using what you were taught and seemed to work…it’s just not good enough. You have better tools available to you and they are closer to the reality of the action. It’s nearly like saying spin your forearm around keeping your upper arm still when all you meant was to bend at the elbow with a biceps curl.

      My desire for you and all is to know what really happens, what we really need to do and why. Then we can cue with images that are closer to the truth.

      Can you consider any images that might work for the deeper lower abdominals that are not a scoop since those muscles don’t scoop? What might they be? Share and I will share back with my images!

      Thank you for starting this part of the conversation. Please let’s continue it!
      – Shari

      • 7. Sabrina  |  January 1, 2015 at 6:50 pm

        I wasn’t taught, actually, to say scoop. Simply I was asking for more clarification of that part of the blog post.

      • 8. theverticalworkshop  |  January 1, 2015 at 6:55 pm

        Thanks for having asked. Did that answer it for you? Did I sort of attack? I hope not. I definitely meant well! Black and white text doesn’t get imbued with honest eyes and heart.
        – Shari

      • 9. Sabrina  |  January 1, 2015 at 11:53 pm

        Quite honestly, yes. A semantics question doesn’t imply that i learned or teach a certain way.

      • 10. theverticalworkshop  |  January 2, 2015 at 6:01 pm

        Gosh, Sabrina, I really didn’t mean to insult you or attack. I hope you can sense my sincerity. I get excited and launched into a response that was meant to be clear and helpful, but I’m sorry if it didn’t come out that way to you. With that, I don’t think anyone is bad if they teach differently, in any case, so it would never have been an attack from me. I just want to share information to help. Again, my true apologies. I didn’t mean to offend you. It would never be my intention. I am sorry.

  • 11. Martin Lerma  |  January 1, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    Hi Shari! What a wonderful and thorough article. I’m so happy to hear that you’ll be writing more in 2015. I have a quick question/clarification. I adopted your protocols for breathing and abdominal engagement (further expanded upon in this article) in “The Lock Down” article and I have seen great improvements in my strength, stability, lung power and alignment. My question relates to the role our “upper” abdominals play once we’ve established our deep, “lower” abdominal engagement. Do you advise that we still begin our exhalations from our lowest abdominals and then have our upper abdominals (all layers collectively) follow and assist in emptying our lungs? Do we still go about maintaining the kind of low abdominal engagement discussed in this article on inhalation as well? Thank you!!!

    • 12. theverticalworkshop  |  January 14, 2015 at 2:33 pm

      Hello, Martin,
      Thank you for your patience in awaiting my response. I have had some tremendous family health issues that have required my concentration in research.

      With that, I’m so glad that you’re recognizing a new strength and balance!

      Now, the upper abdominals…quite important, however, as a unit (rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, internal obliques and external obliques) they are not typical considered a set of muscles that work to empty your lungs. Your diaphragm empties your lungs upon it “release” of contraction. It contracts and “lowers” and then “releases” and “raises”. (I write this all in quotes because they are seeming actions or directions and no muscle actually ever really releases.) Some say that the transverse abdominis assists in exhalation. Some say it has nothing to do with it.

      Of course, if we recognize that all muscles work all of the time, then we can say with a great generalization that all muscles of the body assist in exhalation…but that doesn’t really help you with your question.

      Then what do and what are the upper abdominals? All of the abdominals (as listed above) exist in the lower range (below the navel and to different portions of the pelvis) and all exist in the upper range (above the navel to different portions of the ribcage). The upper abdominals work to either mobilize the ribcage or stabilize the ribcage.

      Now, in inhalation, the posterior serratus, both superior and inferior, quite likely tip the rib cage and thoracic spine into slight extension which assists in inhalation. In exhalation, then do the abdominals assist in returning the thoracic spine? Perhaps. Literally because all soft tissues resist expansion, the upper abdominal fibers very likely resist the slight extension…which means they support the movement. I am more inclined to consider that the aponeurosis of the abdomen is better suited for this than the muscles. This is simply educated supposition. I have read no studies of tests on this in particular, but my work on fascia, elasticity and biotensegrity brings me to this educated supposition.

      And does one maintain the lower abdominal connection during inhalation and exhalation? Martin, like all muscular contractions, one must renew the connection over and over again rather than maintain a steady contraction. Inhalation provides an inner support and tension that let’s it be more-than-viable to lessen the lower abdominal connection if necessary, but to work to continue with the regeneration of connection. And then as you exhale you seek to deepen that connection…because you can. It’s your best opportunity.

      – Shari

      • 13. Martin Lerma  |  January 15, 2015 at 12:18 am

        Fabulous reply, Shari! You confirmed several inklings I had and gave me several more ‘aha!’ moments that connected the dots on a few others (such as the slight extension upon inhalation!). You answered my questions wonderfully and I will take this information into my workouts straight away 🙂

        On another note, I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother’s health. May your family, friends and Contrology be there to support and center you when you need it. All the best to you and your family!

      • 14. theverticalworkshop  |  January 15, 2015 at 7:30 pm

        Thank you for your kindness, Martin! – Shari


  • 15. Lori B. Havas  |  January 1, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    Love this post! Thank you so much for all the time and energy you put into this one!

    • 16. theverticalworkshop  |  January 14, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      Hello, Lori,
      Thank you for your kindness and for reading this article!
      – Shari

  • 17. Kaz  |  January 4, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    Totally agree with Lori. Thanks Shari 🙂

  • 18. Enja Schenck  |  January 4, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    Hi Shari, great stuff, thanks for posting. As a fellow researcher I’m very interested in your sources, do you have a list of references? Thank you.

  • 19. Rachel  |  January 5, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Great article, Shari! I have a question for you about the backbone part. I always tried to get the deep TrA connection and then bring my inner and outer thighs center line at the pubis area. But that compresses a little and doesn’t feel as stable as separating the backbones. Do you mean separate backbones horizontally – in a sense wrapping them around to meet your deep abs getting that tissue connection and then vertically lift. That seems to encourage all the right placement. I have an si joint issue on my right due to a rotation/pull on my left (possibly a slight scoliosis) but this stabilizes
    the joints better, squares my pelvis and feels better on my body. Am I understanding you correctly? I’m not an anatomy whiz but I do understand connections all working together so please excuse if I don’t use the correct terms. So here’s my image- deep abs in right, left and center; separate low backbones horizontal with a vertical
    lift getting into sides, front and back; then bring everything center line internally up through crown of head with a lift in the sternum. Yes- a
    mouthful and trying to coordinate it all together. Thanks for the education!
    Always appreciated. Happy new year! Rachel

    • 20. theverticalworkshop  |  January 8, 2015 at 9:52 pm

      Hello, Rachel, thank you for asking about this. I appreciate the ability to clarify…

      Separating the backbones means literally lifting them off of each other allowing there to be more space between vertebrae. So it is a vertical lift. Not a horizontal spread. We must seek to vertically lift each vertebra off of the one below it.

      I don’t think I understand what you are saying about a horizontal separation. while we do have soft tissues in 3-dimensions, there are no muscles that would pull the back bones/vertebrae horizontally nor could the fascia do that. Of course, the 3-dimensional support helps maintain shape, but could not spread to wider vertebrae. I’m suggesting to encourage all soft tissue including and especially muscles to separate vertically.

      The horizontal or better stated as lateral pull of the TrA and OI against the TLF provides a stability of the lumbar vertebrae and sacrum so that the muscles and other soft tissue can do the vertical work as well as any other movement: flexion, extension, lateral side-bending, rotation, etc.

      So…please let me know if I’ve understood you correctly or if I’ve just complicated matters and missed your query completely. I would like to make sure that I can assist and answer you directly.

      Thank you, Rachel!
      – Shari

      • 21. Rachel  |  January 15, 2015 at 10:50 pm

        Shari – Thanks so much for the clarification. After reading all of your responses to the various questions and understanding your article better, I finally think I got it. So helpful and so important! I still have some issues that I need to resolve and I look forward to connecting with you. I hope things with your grandmother have improved. Take care! Rachel

  • 22. Caitlin  |  January 6, 2015 at 1:27 am

    Great article and very informative, Shari! Love learning from you. Thank you for your time and dedication in writing this.

  • […] plan and train. We cant predict to tighten our abs just by eating a nutritious diet. The abdominals, identical to as another muscle, require intensive bodily task. Lots of people bear about 300 […]

  • 25. Gigi Gould  |  February 26, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Thank you for this very informative post Shari. I do get the feeling of lifting and separating the lumbar spine bones, such a luxurious feeling! The information about the TLF and it’s role means I now completely understand what I’ve been feeling. Excited to have more info to share so clients may connect and lengthen more!

    • 26. theverticalworkshop  |  March 15, 2015 at 9:17 am

      Gigi, I’m so glad that this has been useful to you! Thank you!! Enjoy!!

  • 27. Rebekah Le Magny  |  February 27, 2015 at 12:50 am

    Hi Shari, wonderful article! I still believe that the word scoop has its place in our vocabulary as long as we don’t just throw it around. I would never use it without explaining the need to lift and separate the vertebra and without cautioning students not to tuck their tailbone instead of using their abdominals. But once they “get it”, I still use it cautiously on certain exercises. I have some of my own cues that I have developed that I find really work to achieve the effect that you are describing. but obviously, the same cues don’t work the szme way on each person. I actually find it a lot of fun to play around with them and to see what works. I’d love to discuss it some time with you in person. Hope you will be in France soon.

    • 28. theverticalworkshop  |  March 15, 2015 at 9:17 am

      Rebekah, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! So many things work, indeed! With nearly anything, we have to make sure that we’re conscious about what it is that we’re saying. “Scoop” can be great in some circumstances, just not in all. Just like…well…anything! Thank you so much!!!

  • 29. Patty  |  May 25, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Hi Shari:
    I enjoy your articles very much, thank you for taking the time and research to write them.
    I am not the best in regards to biomechanics, however I was trained to use opposition to create space and circulation. So I do not say “scoop” since I feel it is only one direction. Now, I do que pulling the abdominals in and up and create space in the low back, however, I have taught all my clients to engage their pelvic floor and adductor Magnus to create an opposition while pulling the abdominals in and up. I have found that when I only que the latter, I see gripping in the quads or even the glutes. What are your thoughts on this, as I never hear about the adductor Magnus except from one of my mentors.

    • 30. theverticalworkshop  |  May 28, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Hello, Patty, thank you for reading my articles and taking the time to ask a question. Indeed, Adductor Magnus is exceptionally important. It is a tremendous actor in adduction and lateral rotation. It has fibers that relate to adductors and fibers that relate to hamstrings. It is essential to our movement and stability. With that, when we “hug the midline” pressing our heels together and ideally our big-toe-knuckles together, too, being in “Parallel and Together” position, adductor magnus is an intimate actor in both this action and then the stabilization of the femur marrying both lateral and medial rotation (external and internal, respectively). It massive effort in adduction is when legs are quite wide and then pulled into the midline. That would mean anything around shoulder width apart or aparatus width apart. Even working an exercise like “Spine Stretch Forward” where your legs are apart, but hugging the midline…adductor magnus is quite active.

      It’s not a muscle that you can simply engage singularly. (Actually, no muscle ever engages on its own. All muscles work all of the time. You cannot isolate anything.) But what I mean is that you cannot actively say “Adductor Magnus, engage!” Nor can you do this of any member of any group. It works to make adduction happen while making sure the femur (and therefore feet) stay straight ahead.

      So, it is rarely mentioned because it isn’t a “one activation” muscle. However, whenever you hug the midline, it’s a major component.

      What other thoughts are you seeking on this?

      Thanks for asking!
      – Shari

  • 31. miaexploring  |  December 12, 2015 at 12:21 am

    Wow this is a wonderful wealth of information… Like a rabbit hole Im going to continue pursuing. Gratitude. Best to you Shari.

    • 32. theverticalworkshop  |  December 13, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Thank you! Please do explore and reach out with questions or ask for a session, etc.!
      All the best!
      – Shari

  • 33. Essentially Pilates  |  January 7, 2017 at 10:58 am

    Reading this again since doing the intensives allows me to see this with new eyes. It all makes perfect sense now. Great post!

    • 34. theverticalworkshop  |  January 8, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      Sharon, I’m so pleased that you’ve taken the time to reread this! Indeed, each time you do, you will see it more clearly…especially with all of our work in The Intensives!
      – Shari

  • 35. Marta Maroni  |  July 20, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Hi Shari
    this is wonderful,one question:
    so by “Pull your lower abdominal in and up and lift your lower back bones “would encourage also the transversus abdomins and obliques muscle to engage or not?
    sorry for the question as i think i should be more knowledgeable!
    many thanks!

    • 36. theverticalworkshop  |  July 20, 2017 at 11:03 am

      Hi, Marta,
      I’m glad you wrote in. Indeed, the pull your lower abdmoninals in and up IS the engagement of the transverse abdominis and your internal obliques as we’re going for your deeper lower abdominals (of course all of your abdominals will engage, but these two sets are are primary focus). We want our lower abdominals to inform the connection to our upper abdominals meaning that the the lower deeper are the initial and most focused connected and then the upper and the more superficial, as well, (External obliques) are secondary. All together they help us make conscious choices about where our pelvis and spine go that ultimately become unconscious!

      Does that make sense or did I complicate the matter!

      And don’t worry about shaming yourself for thinking you should be more knowledgable…consider the fact that you’ve read this article and are asking questions! Congratulate yourself on seeking more information! You’re doing great!

      Thank you, Marta!
      – Shari

      • 37. Marta Maroni  |  July 20, 2017 at 11:18 am

        Shari!thank you so much for replaying to me and be so clear on the explanation..again what an amazing and talented Pilates Master you are.Thank you for your blog,it helps a lot and every article is mind blowing.
        thank you so much
        love and light from London

      • 38. theverticalworkshop  |  July 20, 2017 at 12:15 pm

        Marta, I’m so glad that this has helped! I owe you a response on another comment. It’s coming shortly!
        I’m glad that you’re finding value in my work! Please reach out when you need!
        – Shari

      • 39. Marta Maroni  |  July 20, 2017 at 12:19 pm

        aww…thank you so much for the constant support and altruism.
        M xxx

  • […] bodies and in between: front, back, sides, etc. They are little discs (See an earlier piece: Abdominals. Spine…) that you want to develop the proper tension of soft tissue (tensegrity) to keep them […]

  • […] more to the story and I’m happy to share it with you elsewhere. You can read a bit more here: Abdominals. Spine. Why? and Biotensegrity. And you can learn a lot about it in my workshops. Now, if you pull your lower abdominals in and […]


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