I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! Mine was excellent! Great food, delightful company, and lots of leftovers.
I’m sure you’ve seen those musclebound guys at the gym who do their bicycle crunches so fast, that, by the time you get two done, they’ve done 20. Well, don’t feel the least bit bad about your efforts because that twisting at high speed is a recipe for muscle spasms at the least, and herniated discs at the worst. Yes, their ab workout is not only using momentum, which reduces how hard those ab muscles work, but that fast twisting motion is bad for your back. Not exactly the recipe you’re looking for, is it?
When I was in training to teach Pilates, and learning all the mat exercises, I experienced first-hand the benefit of slow, purposeful, movements. Did you know that Joseph Pilates originally called his exercise program “Contrology”? When you learn to control your movement, breath, and muscles to work together, your physical improvement happens much sooner. Mine sure did! In all of my Pilates classes, we use slow, controlled motion, which awakens your mind body connection, and teaches you how to use the correct muscles for each activity. I tell my clients all the time that I would rather have them perform one or two of each exercise with the correct form than to try to muddle through the entire series and risk further injury. It’s a hard concept for a lot of people, but it’s essential if you want to get strong and improve all the muscles surrounding your spine. Let’s take the Pilates Bicycle as an example:
The best way to begin this exercise is to lie on your back with your feet flat and your knees bent.
- Take a moment to lengthen your spine as you inhale, and then concentrate on using the muscles that wrap around your bottom ribs (anterior serratus) to lift your upper back, neck, and shoulders off the floor a bit on your exhale.
Note: I often see people jerking their head up off the mat, which uses mostly neck muscles, or lifting their lower back slightly off the floor to bring their head up, which, again, is a risk for lower back injury. Concentrate on using ONLY the correct muscles, and try just this move several times until you feel as though you can do it properly.
- Then raise your knees a bit to bring your feet slightly off the floor.
- Now, continue using the anterior serratus muscles to hold your upper body up as you slowly twist to the right bringing your right leg up to meet your left hand, tapping your foot or knee. The left leg extends straight out and a couple of inches off the floor. Hold there for a second (or a nanosecond), then twist slowly in the opposite direction, right hand tapping the raised left leg, and the right leg extended out just off the floor.
- Inhale to one side, hold for just a second if you can, and then exhale to the other side and hold for a second there. Do as many as you can and slowly build up to ten on each side.
Keep your focus on using the serratus muscles to hold your upper body off the floor and you will feel your lateral ab muscles waking up, as well, with this exercise.
The American Council on Exercise recommends holding for one to two seconds at the top of each side before switching, however, that can be quite difficult to do when you are starting out, so please go at your own pace and strengthen bit by bit.
Remember that the most important part of completing an exercise is to use proper form so that you strengthen the muscles you are attempting to strengthen, with no risk of injury. Even if that means you can do just one in the beginning. Go at your own pace!
I have included a video of this exercise with a couple of modifications, but please read this first, so that you have an understanding of what to feel in this move before you do it with me.
Best of Health,