The Spine: Work the Back From the Front By Barbara Katz
Your spine absorbs stress and strain every day from driving, riding on uncomfortable buses, working at a computer, bending, carrying children and groceries, and tension. In time, your spine is as worn out as a piece of overcooked linguini. Think of your abdominals as a surface that supports that limp piece of linguini. If your abdominals are only as strong as a piece of paper, the vertebral discs in your spine have to work too hard to support your body. But if your abs are strong, more like a piece of thick cardboard, the spine will be supported and posture can be improved.
Your spine needs to bend forward (forward flexion), bend to the sides (lateral flexion), twist (lateral rotation), and occasionally bend backward (extension). Pilates uses all of these movements to engage the abdominals in a fuller range of motion than many other exercise systems.
The differences between a Pilates roll up, for example, and a crunch or ordinary sit up are significant. A crunch uses a very small portion of the abdominal muscles and only for a second or two. During a sit up, the goal is just to, well, sit up. But the basic cues for a Pilates roll up help explain how this exercise uses the abdominal muscles in a fuller range of motion: lift your head, then roll up one vertebrate at a time; imagine your spine can roll like a wheel; when rolling back, articulate your spine into the mat one vertebrate at a time. This spinal articulation requires abdominal support, which can be developed through the Pilates abdominal series.
The five strength-building abdominal series exercises will help improve your posture, but you must learn how to apply your abdominal strength during all movements, in and out of the studio. Because every part of the body should be working even if it’s not moving, Pilates builds an awareness of where your body is in space and what each part is doing. Put another way, Pilates builds the mind-body connection. More about that next time. Until then, abs in and up, everyone!