Do crunches offer the best core workout to work and tone the abdominals? While there is nothing wrong with the traditional crunch when executed correctly, with greater knowledge of the human body we now know that core training is more beneficial and effective for strong abs and a stable trunk.
Pilates and its control in performing core strength movements do work. I’ve been practicing and teaching it for over 10 years now, and I have better core strength, balance, and posture than ever. Unlike any other core workout, Pilates helps you strengthen ALL of your core and stabilising muscles. Whereas exercises like crunches only target the outermost abdominals (rectus abdominis), Pilates moves can switch on and strengthen your internal and external obliques, erector spinae, and even your deepest abdominal muscle, the transversus abdominis (TA)
This muscle is extremely important, but often hard to target if you are not taught correctly. A pilates class is the best way to experience how to activate these often neglected muscles that are so much more important than the rectus abdominis which is what is only worked doing crunches. A weak transverse can contribute to back pain, poor balance, and poor posture. A strong transversus abdominis acts like a corset, not only bracing your core and protecting against injury and back pain but helping create a leaner, flatter appearance of the stomach. Unfortunately no matter how many 100’s of crunches you do will achieve that!
There are 2 Pilates exercises that will definitely help you achieve core strength and strong lean abs. The 100’s and the famous Plank, both recruit the highest amount of muscle fibres in the transverse abdominis and internal obliques. Each of these can also easily be modified for beginners and vamped up for advanced practitioners.
Here’s how to them.
SETUP: Lie on your back with your spine in neutral (this is where you keep the natural curves of the spine) your arms at your sides, your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and your heels in line with your hips. INHALE to prepare. EXHALE to engage your abs and lift the feet off the floor to tabletop position (90 degrees at hips and knees – Beginners position). INHALE to reach your arms toward the ceiling (straight up). EXHALE to lower your arms toward your hips as you lift the head, neck, and tips of your shoulder blades off the mat. Straighten the legs out (as in the picture for advanced option and add a soft ball for extra challenge)
THE EXERCISE: Pulse the arms for five counts (like splashing your arms in a pool) while you INHALE. Pulse the arms for five counts while you EXHALE. Repeat for 10 total sets (100 arm pumps).
SETUP: Start on hands and knees wrists underneath shoulders and knees under hips, with toes tucked under slowly lift knees off the floor. For beginners stay on your knees and shift your weight forward you will need to realign your wrists under the shoulders, your spine should be long and straight but angled as in the picture above.
EXERCISE: Draw the navel to the spine and tuck your tailbone under like tucking it between your legs. This will lengthen your lower back and shorten the front of your body recruiting the deep core abdominals. Advance versions can add a leg lift without making any changes to the trunk or bringing the same knee to the elbow.
With consistency in practice, these 2 movements will make a difference. Whilst I have tried to explain the correct execution of these exercises there is nothing like being in a core Pilates class to experience the real effect of the movement and to have a teacher that can correct you when needed. It probably took me 4 years of practice with my teachers’ guidance to truly perfect my Pilates practice. I believe that participating in a class keeps us honest and accountable in our practice. If you would like to experience a great core workout, we offer both in-studio & online Pilates classes.
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