Fewer than 10 days to go in March MATness and we’re going to keep today’s cue short and sweet. For Hip Twist, there is an incredibly simple, neary universally accessible imagery cue. It’s so obvious, I’m sure you can guess it. But here’s the deal, sometimes the most obvious and simple images are the ones that most loudly resonate with our clients.
So throw your client a bone and strip this exercise down to it’s basic movement. Set your client up with the proper arm position, posture and leg starting position, then just let them go for it with a relatable movement image – windshield wipers.
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Let’s talk about the crunch. The term brings to mind workout videos (VHS, of course) from the ‘80s and ‘90s. It conjures images of a pinched face and a million reps. Outdated, right? Well, not really. The crunch is still part of almost every exercise repertoire. It may not be called a “crunch” – we certainly don’t call it that in Pilates – but let’s be honest, the movement of lifting your head, neck and shoulders off the floor while at the same time decreasing the distance between your nose and your knees, is what, traditionally, has been called a “crunch.”
Why are fitness disciplines, including Pilates, shying away from the term “crunch?” Quite possibly because a “crunched” body is nobody’s goal. So, how do we get clients to do this quintessential ab workout without “crunching?” How do we stay true to a goal of elongation and space between the vertebrae while tapping into one of the most traditional and effective abdominal exercises?
First, cue bones. To avoid the “crunch” of the cervical spine coming into extreme flexion as the chest lifts, initiate the movement by cueing the rib-hip connection. The rib-hip connection can see us through almostany supine abdominal challenge. It can help initiate the movement and it can also give us a reference point as we try to maintain the chest lift position throughout certain exercises – “maintain the distance between your bottom rib and your hip bone…” This also works for cross body supine ab work such as the Criss Cross. Cue the right rib to left hip bone and vice versa.
Second, cue smooth arcs. The traditional crunch is rather staccato: Up, down. Up, down. Up, down. If we tweak the cueing slightly, we can create an arc of movement, rather than a crunch. With a smooth arc of movement, the exercise is effective in the upward movement as well as on the return, through eccentric muscle contraction as the muscles elongate.
To help create a visual for your client, you can use any arc that feels relevant to you. A rainbow, the St. Louis Arch, the Kintai Bridge of Japan or a more humble crust of a slice of pie (if you’re like me an just finished gorging over the holidays, a slice of pie is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of an arc). In the start position, with your head resting on the floor, imagine the arc is hovering just above the head, one end resting on the floor and the other end hovering knee-height above your pubic bone. Ask your client to elongate the crown of his or her head to the edge of the arc, creating length in both the spine in the abdominals. Then have him or her begin to trace the inside of the arc, maintaining that length and connection with the arc to the top of the movement and again on the way back down.
Don’t give up on the crunch! Just slow it down and smooth it out. And give it a more apt name. Ab Arcs anyone?
For some clients, being in the prone position means rest time for the abdominals. This couldn’t be further from the reality. Engaging the core during prone exercises helps keep the spine in optimal neutral alignment and it helps the body more efficiently use the muscles that the exercise is meant to work. Perhaps most importantly, though, it prevents us from “falling” into our lower backs.
Relying on the low back muscles during prone exercises is a common mistake even from really strong clients. It can cause unnecessary tightness, strain and even injury in the low back.
While clients’ natural inclination is to “let it all go” through the tummy during this type of exercise, they are also keenly aware of the difference they feel from an efficiency and a comfort standpoint when they do engage their abdominals. As soon as they tighten across the core and lift the abdominals away from the mat, they can feel a change to their spine position, which in turn changes the entire output of the exercise!
To initiate this engagement and to remind them throughout the repetitions, try having them imagine a blueberry (or other soft, messy item) under their belly button. Challenge them not to squish it!!