Learning how to engage your abs can seem tricky at first. If you’re new to pilates, when someone mentions to ‘engage your abs’ you might think to tense your belly area. That’s only a small part of the full abdominal muscles we focus on in a pilates class. Engaging your abs is more than just the belly, it encompasses your whole core, including your pelvic floor. When engaged correctly, your abs, or abdominals, will create an integrated core unit of strength. This core unit supports the spine and facilitates movement and stabilisation throughout the body.
In Pilates we develop this core unit by
- Activating two specific sets of muscles, and
- Teaching them to work effectively and in harmony with the muscles of the back.
These two sets of muscles are the muscles of the pelvic floor and all of the abdominal muscles. It’s important to note that we are not just working with the “six-pack” muscles. We call these two sets of muscles the T-Zone as they form the letter “T” on the pelvis.
Pilates puts an emphasis on the lower deep abdominal muscles that are often under developed and underworked,. These muscles are the muscles of our transverse abdominis (TA). We focus on the TA instead of the surface muscles of the rectus abdominis (6 pack) that is normally activated during strength training.
So How Do I Engage My Abs?
Step 1: Activate the Pelvic Floor
To properly engage your abs, think of the muscles of your pelvic floor. These are the muscles that run up from the pubic bone to the belly button. Imagine you are pulling up the pelvic floor towards the belly button, up the vertical line of the T. Another good way to activate the pelvic floor is to think as if you were trying to stop yourself going to the bathroom. Some people also like to imagine pulling the sit bones towards each other.
Step 2: Scoop the abdominals
Once the pelvic floor is engaged, the focus moves to the transverse abdominis. These muscles form a corset around the spine. Scoop the abdominals in trying to flatten out the tummy and pull the belly button a little closer to the spine. Be careful to not just “suck” in the belly. It is not as strong an action as this. Perhaps think of it like moving your hip bones towards each other gently, along the horizontal line of the T. To know if you’re doing it right, place your finger tips just inside your hip bones whilst doing the movement. You’ll know you’ve got it if you feel the area underneath your finger tips tighten slightly.
It may take some practice to learn to engage your abs properly, but once you get the hang of it you will notice a big difference in not only your quality of workout, but also the stability of your body. It can be tricky when starting to learn, but if you develop a consistent routine, it does get easier!
Engaging your abs is paramount to longer term health as it protects our spine, and prevents our pelvic area from weakening. Also, women who are considering pregnancy, have been pregnant or who suffer from urinary incontinence may find properly engaging their abs will support their body and health from further weakness.
If you’re looking to learn to engage your abdominals in a controlled environment, call or email us to find the right class and location for you. Joining the Rebalance Family means more than just a workout. We care about your wellbeing and have a supportive environment.
Written By Kelly Mortensen, Training Manager – Rebalance Pilates and Yoga