Pilates Anatomy

Chapter 5

Abdominal Work for Movement and Stabilization

As discussed in chapter 2, the abdominals are vital to the Pilates concept of the powerhouse. They also are a key element in the more current and related concept of core stability, which is popular both in the area of rehabilitation and the arena of athletic performance enhancement. Although most Pilates exercises encourage use of the abdominals, the exercises in this chapter focus particularly on strengthening the abdominals in their action of spinal flexion and also developing the skill of using the abdominals for stabilization. Many exercises in future chapters apply the strength and skill developed here to exercises that involve more challenging actions of the abdominals, detailed articulation of the spine, and more complex movement sequences.

Pay close attention to technique and precision of performance so that both adequate strength and the desired movement patterns are developed. This is very important. Poor execution will fail to produce the desired results and may result in injury. Furthermore, some exercises are not appropriate for everyone. Check with your physician to see what is appropriate for you, and use modifications whenever necessary. If you take care to start at the appropriate level and gradually progress, you will gain strength and skills that will improve the performance of your Pilates workout and contribute to the many activities of daily living and athletic pursuits. It is also important to recognize that the strength and skills gained can help protect the back from injury.

This chapter includes exercises that use the abdominals in a variety of modes. One-Leg Circle (page 70) focuses on using the abdominals to carefully control movements of the pelvis as one leg undergoes movement in multiple directions. In the closely aligned Roll-Up (page 73) and Neck Pull (page 76), the abdominals are used as prime movers in their action of spinal flexion as well as stabilizers while the legs remain straight, resting on the mat. In the next group of related exercises, the abdominals are used in an isometric manner to maintain a position of spinal flexion while the legs are held out straight (Hundred, page 78) or moved (One-Leg Stretch, page 82; Single Straight-Leg Stretch, page 84; Double-Leg Stretch, page 87) in the air and off the mat. Hundred and Double-Leg Stretch provide the additional challenge of holding both legs or moving both legs simultaneously away from the center while maintaining spinal flexion. Crisscross (page 90) advances the challenge of One-Leg Stretch by adding rotation of the torso while maintaining flexion of the spine. Teaser (page 92) represents the most complex exercise. In addition to both legs being held out simultaneously, the abdominals work to raise and lower the upper trunk rather than hold it still in space.

Many of the exercises in this chapter are closely related. It is valuable to note the similarities and differences when developing the required abdominal strength and stabilization skills. Making such connections can help you transfer skills highlighted in this chapter to related exercises in future chapters as well as when compiling a comprehensive Pilates program, which is discussed further in chapter 10.

One-Leg Circle (Leg Circle)

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the arms by the sides and the palms facing down, both legs outstretched on the mat. Bend one knee to the chest, and straighten that leg toward the ceiling so that it is perpendicular to the mat. Gently point the foot. Flex the foot on the mat (ankle–foot dorsiflexion).

2. Exhale. Circle the raised leg across the midline of the body, allowing one side of the pelvis to lift off the mat. See the main muscle illustration. Continue to circle the leg down and across the other leg as the back of the pelvis returns to lie evenly on the mat.

3. Inhale. Continue to circle the leg out to the same side as it was originally raised to return to the start position. Repeat the same pattern with the other leg, alternating the legs with each circle. Do five circles with each leg.

Targeted Muscles

Anterior spinal rotators and stabilizers: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis

Posterior spinal rotators and stabilizers: erector spinae (iliocostalis, longissimus, spinalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group

Accompanying Muscles

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Ankle–foot dorsiflexors: tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus

Technique Cues

• In step 1, think of pulling up the front and back of the pelvis simultaneously so that this cocontraction of the abdominals and spinal extensors can be used to limit an excessive anterior or posterior pelvic tilt while the spinal rotators allow the pelvis to rotate carefully from side to side to complement the leg’s circling movements.

• Maintain a long line with the circling leg by using the knee extensors to keep the knee straight and the ankle–foot plantar flexors to maintain a pointed position of the raised foot. The ankle–foot dorsiflexors maintain a flexed position of the foot on the mat.

• Focus on using the hip muscles in a finely coordinated manner to create a smooth leg circle. For example, in step 2 use the hip adductors initially to bring the leg across the body and the hip extensors to produce the down part of the circle. The hip abductors then quickly become active to prevent the leg from dropping too far toward the mat. In step 3, the hip flexors are key in producing the up portion of the circle, while the hip abductors also work initially to bring the leg to the side.

• While keeping the movement smooth, add an emphasis at the end of each circle as the leg returns to its vertical position, pausing momentarily.

• Imagine. Imagine a string from the ceiling guiding your leg in a circular motion, like a string puppet. At the same time, your pelvis and spine roll from center to side and back like a pendulum. The sideways pendulum movement and the circular leg motion are coordinated perfectly to provide a smooth, uninterrupted flow of movement.

Exercise Notes

Although many hip muscles are used in One-Leg Circle, the resistance is insufficient to offer much strength benefit for these muscles. Instead, this exercise offers the benefit of hip mobility, including a dynamic stretch for the hamstrings. In some cases, it can help relieve muscle tightness or spasm in the hip and lower back. In addition, this exercise teaches the complex skill of moving the leg in many directions while controlling the accompanying pelvic movement. For example, as the leg moves down, the tendency is for the pelvis to tilt anteriorly and the lower back to arch. Firm contraction of the abdominals as if to create a posterior pelvic tilt is required to counter this tendency. Similarly, as the leg moves across the body or out to the side, the spinal rotators must first contract to start the pelvic rotation and then work in the opposite manner as if to counterrotate the pelvis to prevent the pelvis from rotating excessively in the direction of the circling leg. Lastly, as the leg comes back to vertical, slight simultaneous contraction of the back extensors with the abdominals is often required to prevent the pelvis from posteriorly tilting.

Variations

A common variation is to circle the leg 5 to 10 times in one direction and then the other direction before switching legs. The exercise can also be performed with the arms out at shoulder height (T position), palms facing up. This variation provides more stability and is beneficial when rolled shoulders are present. Also, reversing the position of the feet so the raised foot is flexed (ankle–foot dorsiflexion) can accentuate the dynamic hamstring stretch for the circling leg. In addition, the pelvis and spine can be kept absolutely still throughout, adding a challenge in terms of pelvic–spinal stabilization. Finally, to lengthen the breath, inhale for one circle and exhale for one circle.

Roll-Up

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine, legs straight and together with the feet gently pointed. Arms are straight overhead and in line with the shoulders, palms facing up.

2. Inhale. After drawing the abdominal wall inward toward the spine, lift the arms toward the ceiling and bring the chin toward the chest while lifting the head and scapulae off the mat. Simultaneously flex the feet (ankle–foot dorsiflexion).

3. Exhale. Continue to curl up (see the main muscle illustration), passing through a sitting position until the upper body is over the legs, with the fingers reaching toward the toes. If flexibility allows, the palms can touch the sides of the feet or be placed on the mat as shown.

4. Inhale. Begin to roll down until the back of the sacrum starts to establish contact with the mat.

5. Exhale. Finish rolling down and then bring the arms overhead, returning to the start position. Repeat the sequence 10 times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Spinal extensors: erector spinae

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Ankle–foot dorsiflexors: tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectoralis major (sternal)

Scapular depressors: lower trapezius, serratus anterior (lower fibers)

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• Focus on a smooth, sequential movement of every vertebra as each one lifts off in steps 2 and 3 and lowers onto the mat in steps 4 and 5.

• Late in step 3, emphasize pulling the lower abdominals in while the hip extensors and spinal extensors smoothly control the trunk as it lowers, and the head, hands, and heels reach away from the center. Keep the head between the arms and the heels in contact with the mat as the fingers reach toward the toes.

• Focus on creating a long line with the arms by using the elbow extensors to keep the elbows straight and the scapular depressors to avoid elevating the scapulae toward your ears. Maintain this positioning of the arms as they move at the shoulder joints, with the shoulder extensors bringing the arms forward in step 2, the shoulder flexors preventing gravity from making the arms drop toward the mat in steps 3 and 4, and then the shoulder flexors starting to bring the arms overhead in step 5.

• Imagine. Pull the lower rib cage down and back. Imagine curling around a large exercise ball so the contraction of the abdominals keeps the back from flattening or arching as the hip flexors become more active and the trunk curls higher in step 3 and begins to lower in step 4.

Exercise Notes

Roll-Up challenges the abdominals and works on spinal articulation while the legs are straight instead of bent. This straight-leg position makes it more difficult for some people to achieve the posterior pelvic tilt and lower spine flexion that naturally accompany rolling up from a supine position. The straight-leg end position also offers a potential benefit of improving hamstring and lower back flexibility.

Modifications

If you are unable to come to a sitting position with good form, place small cuffs (maximum of 3 pounds [1.5 kg] each) on the ankles, or bend the knees slightly and use the hands (placed on the thighs) to help lift the upper trunk during the difficult part of the up phase.

Variation

This exercise can be performed with the feet gently pointed, the palms facing toward each other. Stop earlier with the shoulders over the hips as shown.

Neck Pull

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the legs straight and together while the feet are flexed (ankle–foot dorsiflexion). The elbows are bent and out to the sides with the fingers interlaced behind the head.

2. Inhale. After drawing the abdominal wall inward toward the spine, bring the chin toward the chest while lifting the head and upper trunk off the mat. See the main muscle illustration.

3. Exhale. Continue to curl up through a sitting position until your upper body is rounded forward over your legs as shown.

4. Inhale. Begin rolling back in the rounded C-curve position.

5. Exhale. Complete rolling down to the start position. Repeat the sequence 10 times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Spinal extensors: erector spinae

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Ankle–foot dorsiflexors: tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus

Technique Cues

• Focus on using the abdominals to create a smooth, sequential movement of each vertebra on the way up and on the way down.

• Think of using the abdominals to pull the front of the lower rib cage down and back to maximize flexion of the spine as you curl up to prevent the lower back from flattening or arching as the hip flexors become more active in step 3.

• As the upper body moves forward at the end of step 3, create a smooth, controlled movement through eccentric contraction of the hip extensors and back extensors, followed by the concentric use of these muscles to lift the trunk early in step 4.

• Contract the abdominals more intensely to maintain the C curve of the spine as long as possible while the abdominals help control lowering the trunk in step 5.

• Throughout the movement, keep the elbows reaching out to the sides as much as your strength allows. Don’t jerk the elbows forward to aid the body during the curl-up. Despite the name of the exercise, avoid pulling on your head.

• Imagine. To achieve the desired quality of the movement, think of a wave building, cresting, and beginning to break as your trunk curls up in steps 1 through 3, a blowhole of water lifting your spine in step 4, and the tide pulling you back out to the sea as you lower your trunk in step 5.

Exercise Notes

Neck Pull shares many of the benefits of Roll-Up (page 73) but offers more challenge for abdominal strength because having the hands behind the head produces greater effective resistance (torque), as described in chapter 3. Developing skill in fine articulation of the lower back using this more difficult arm position is also valuable because this area of the spine is often tight, poorly controlled, and vulnerable to injury. This arm position provides a more rigorous dynamic stretch for the hamstrings and spinal extensors at the end of step 3.

Variations

Perform the first part of the exercise as described. However, instead of rolling back in the C-curve position from the point at which the trunk is over the legs, first roll up to a flat back position and sit upright. Then lean back on an angle, maintaining the flat back position before rounding the trunk and rolling all the way down to the start position. Neck Pull can also be performed with the feet gently pointed or flexed and the legs hip-width apart.

Hundred

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the legs straight and raised about 60 degrees or higher, if necessary, to maintain pelvic stability. Gently point the feet. The arms rest on the mat beside the body, with the palms facing down.

2. Exhale. Draw the abdominal wall in, and lift the upper trunk into Chest Lift position (page 54). Bring the arms forward to 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) above the thighs, palms down.

3. Inhale. Pump the arms slightly down and then up on each count for a total of five counts with active breathing as described in chapter 1 (page 7). See the main muscle illustration.

4. Exhale. Pump the arms slightly down and then up on each count for a total of five counts with active breathing. Repeat this cycle 10 times or for 100 pumping motions, as long as good form can be maintained. Lower the torso and bring the arms back down to the start position.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder extensors: pectoralis major (sternal), latissimus dorsi, teres major

Shoulder flexors: pectoralis major (clavicular), anterior deltoid

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• At the beginning of the exhale in step 2, draw the abdominal wall in toward the spine to encourage use of the transversus abdominis just before using the other abdominals to flex the spine, while at the start of the motion the shoulder flexors raise the arms.

• To achieve the desired end position in step 2, focus on maintaining a firm abdominal contraction so the lower back maintains contact with the mat and the pelvis remains stable. The hip flexors maintain the raised position of the legs, the knee extensors the straight position of the knees, and the ankle–foot plantar flexors the pointed position of the feet. Also, think of gently squeezing the inner thighs together to activate the hip adductors while reaching the legs out to create a long, arrowlike leg line.

• Maintain a stationary deep C curve of the trunk as the arms pump in steps 3 and 4.

• Use the elbow extensors to keep the elbows straight, and reach the fingertips forward.

• Focus on isolating the movement to the shoulder joints, trying to use the muscles that run just below the armpits to encourage activation of the large latissimus dorsi and pectoralis major as the shoulder extensors and flexors work together to produce the quick pumping movements of the arms.

• Imagine. Imagine you are pressing the arms down against a trampoline and they are rebounding a few inches.

Exercise Notes

Hundred is one of the signature abdominal exercises of the Pilates repertoire. Hundred offers a particularly difficult challenge to core stability since you have to maintain a constant position of spinal flexion while holding your legs off the mat with the knees extended as the arms repetitively and vigorously move. Because of these challenges, Hundred benefits people with adequate strength and skill, but it is inappropriate and potentially high risk for people with inadequate strength or skill. Most people are not adequately prepared to perform this exercise with the legs held near to the mat. Use the modifications, and progress slowly to a more challenging leg position.

In Hundred, the contraction of the hip flexors holds the legs off the mat against gravity. As described in Leg Lift Supine (page 56), because of the attachments of the hip flexors (particularly the iliopsoas and rectus femoris) onto the spine and front of the pelvis, their contraction tends to cause the lower back to arch and the pelvis to tilt anteriorly unless adequate abdominal stabilization is performed simultaneously. (See the illustrations.) In Hundred, both legs are off the mat and the knees are straight. Therefore, the legs produce much greater torque, as described in chapter 3. This requires a much more forceful contraction of the hip flexors to keep the legs off the mat, and it is a greater challenge for the abdominals to stabilize the core and keep the lower back from arching. The closer the legs are to the mat, the greater the muscular force required to counter the weight of the legs.

Modifications

Hold your legs as close to vertical as is necessary to allow you to maintain a stable pelvis and lower back. Gradually lower the legs as stability improves. If your hamstrings are tight, straighten the legs just until you feel tension in the hamstrings, or first practice the exercise with the legs in tabletop position or with the knees bent and the feet flat on the mat.

Variation

A variation on the breath pattern used in some approaches is to add a pause on the inhale in step 3 and then begin pumping the arms with the exhale. An exhale may make it easier to pull in the abdominal wall slightly farther to help establish firm pelvic stability as the arms pump for five counts. Once stability is established, try to maintain this position for the next five counts of the inhale and throughout the remainder of the 10 cycles.

One-Leg Stretch (Single-Leg Stretch)

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the head and scapulae off the mat in Chest Lift (page 54) position and one knee pulled into your chest. The hand on the side of the bent knee holds the shin just above the ankle. The other arm is bent with the hand on the knee. The straight leg is at a height at which the lower back can maintain contact with the mat. Both feet are gently pointed.

2. Inhale. Begin to bend the outstretched leg and straighten the bent leg.

3. Exhale. Complete the switch, using an exhale as the leg fully straightens and the hands switch to the other knee as shown in the main muscle illustration. The hand on the side of the bent knee grasps the shin near the ankle, and the other hand holds the knee that is pulled toward the chest. Repeat the sequence 5 times on each leg for a total of 10 times, completing each switch of the legs with an exhale.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, pectoralis major (sternal)

Elbow flexors: biceps brachii, brachialis

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• In step 1, firmly pull the abdominal wall toward the spine. Maintain solid contact of the lower back and sacrum with the mat and a stationary position of the ASIS as you use the hip flexors and extensors to switch the legs in steps 2 and 3.

• Think of constantly lifting the upper trunk up and forward off the mat with a firm contraction of the abdominals so that it stays lifted at the same height instead of dropping down as the legs switch.

• While maintaining this core stability, reach one leg out in space. The knee extensors that straighten the knee and the ankle–foot plantar flexors that point the foot help to create the desired long line.

• Keep the scapulae neutral, and avoid lifting them toward your ears while the shoulder flexors work to keep the arms from dropping toward the mat when the arms switch to the opposite leg. The elbow extensors straighten the arm that reaches for the ankle, while the elbow flexors start bending the arm to bring it to the opposite knee. Use the elbow flexors on both arms to help pull the knee close to your chest. Then keep the knee stationary as the hands press down on the lower leg, and bring the elbows down toward the mat so that the shoulder extensors assist with keeping the torso lifted off the mat.

• Imagine. Imagine that your legs are moving precisely like pistons while the engine, the powerhouse of your body, remains entirely stationary.

Exercise Notes

One-Leg Stretch is a valuable stability exercise that emphasizes the abdominals. The abdominals work in multiple roles to keep the trunk lifted, maintain contact between the lower back and the mat, and keep the abdominal wall pulled in. This abdominal action is necessary to maintain pelvic and spinal stability, which the vigorous movement of the legs can easily disrupt.

One-Leg Stretch variation.

One-Leg Stretch variation.

Variation

This exercise can also be performed with the thigh of the bent leg just beyond vertical rather than close into the chest. Both hands are on that knee, with the lower part of the bent leg parallel to the mat. This alternative position can be used to emphasize curling up the trunk higher to better challenge the abdominals.

Single Straight-Leg Stretch (Hamstring Pull)

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the head and scapulae off the mat in Chest Lift (page 54) position. One leg is lifted toward the forehead, with both hands grasping it near the ankle. The opposite leg is suspended above the mat at a height at which the lower back can maintain contact with the mat. Both knees are straight and both feet are gently pointed.

2. Exhale. Pull the abdominal wall in slightly closer toward the spine while pulling the top leg closer to the forehead with two gentle pulses coordinated with two percussive exhales.

3. Inhale. While keeping the legs straight, switch the legs and move the hands to the ankle of the opposite leg.

4. Exhale. Again, pull this leg closer toward the forehead as shown in the main muscle illustration, with one percussive breath for each of the two pulses. Repeat the sequence 5 times on each leg, for a total of 10 times, switching the legs on the inhale and then pulling the top leg closer for two pulses with a double percussive exhale. When finished, return to the start position.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Technique Cues

• In step 1, firmly pull the abdominal wall in toward the spine, and use a strong isometric abdominal contraction to keep the trunk lifted and the pelvis stable while maintaining contact between the lower back and the mat throughout the exercise, particularly as the legs switch.

• While maintaining core stability, reach both legs out in space. The knee extensors that straighten the knees and the ankle–foot plantar flexors that point the feet help to create the desired long line.

• Early in step 3, maintain the long leg line as you use the hip flexors to raise the lower leg and the hip extensors to lower the upper leg. After the upper leg passes vertical, the hip flexors become key in controlling it as it lowers against gravity.

• In step 4, focus on keeping this leg (now the lower leg) at a constant height as the top leg is gently pulled in toward the forehead. This creates a dynamic stretch for the hamstrings. Draw the top leg in using the shoulder flexors, with the elbows pointing to the sides.

• Concentrate on keeping the scapulae neutral rather than rounding forward or lifting up.

• Imagine. The leg switch should have a brisk and sharp dynamic, like opening and closing scissors, with the motion isolated to the hips.

Exercise Notes

As its name suggests, Single Straight-Leg Stretch is closely related to One-Leg Stretch (page 82), only both legs remain straight in Single Straight-Leg Stretch. Keeping the upper leg straight while bringing it toward the chest adds a beneficial dynamic stretch for the hamstrings, which often are tight. Lowering a straight leg requires more rigorous contraction of the abdominals to maintain stability of the pelvis and lower back.

Modifications

If the hamstrings are tight, move the hands lower on the leg, or allow the knee to bend slightly as the top leg is brought toward the forehead.

Variation

This exercise can be performed with the bottom leg lowered all the way to the mat as shown. This position can limit the posterior tilting of the pelvis, enhancing the stretch of the hamstrings on the top leg.

Double-Leg Stretch

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the head and scapulae off the mat in Chest Lift (page 54) position, both knees bent and pulled toward the chest with one hand on each shin.

2. Inhale. Reach the arms down to the sides of the legs while simultaneously extending both legs to a height at which the lower back maintains contact with the mat. See the main muscle illustration.

3. Exhale. Bend the legs back in toward the chest while the arms return to the start position with the hands on the shins. Repeat the sequence 10 times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Knee flexors: hamstrings

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Elbow flexors: biceps brachii, brachialis

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• In step 1, think of pulling together the lower attachments of the abdominals on the pelvis and the upper attachments on the rib cage and pulling the abdominal wall in to create a slight C curve. Maintain contact of the lower back with the mat throughout the exercise.

• While maintaining a curled stationary position of the trunk, reach both legs out. Use the hip extensors to begin to move the thighs away from the chest. The hip flexors then become key in supporting the weight of the legs and keeping the legs from lowering too far because of gravity. Gently pulling the legs together with the hip adductors as the knee extensors straighten the legs and the ankle–foot plantar flexors point the feet can help achieve the desired long leg line in step 2, before the hip flexors and knee flexors draw the legs in during step 3.

• As the arms move, think of reaching them toward the feet as the elbow extensors straighten the elbows in step 2. The elbow flexors bend the elbows in step 3. Throughout the exercise, the shoulder flexors keep the arms from lowering toward the mat because of gravity.

• Imagine. The movement should have a dynamic reach-and-gather quality, as if the limbs were springs being extended on the reach phase and then recoiling on the gather phase.

Exercise Notes

Double-Leg Stretch represents a large jump in difficulty from One-Leg Stretch (page 82). In the outstretched position, both legs are held far away from the axis of the motion, requiring abdominal strength and skill to maintain the desired core stability. While providing a valuable challenge for some, similar to that described for Hundred (page 78), this exercise is not appropriate for many individuals. Use modifications when needed.

Modifications

Straighten the legs to an angle as close to vertical as is necessary to allow the pelvis to remain stable and to avoid arching the lower back. If hamstring tightness is a limiting factor, the legs can be only partially straightened.

Variations

To challenge the abdominals more, reach the arms overhead as shown and then circle them around to the start position as the legs reach out and then come back in. Challenge the abdominals even more by keeping the thighs just beyond vertical when the knees bend and by curling the trunk up higher as described in One-Leg Stretch variation.

Crisscross

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the head and scapulae off the mat in Chest Lift (page 54) position. Legs are in tabletop position but with knees slightly closer to the chest and both feet gently pointed. Arms are bent with the elbows out to the sides and the fingers interlaced behind the head.

2. Exhale. Straighten one leg while simultaneously rotating the trunk toward the opposite bent knee as shown in the main muscle illustration.

3. Inhale. Begin to straighten the bent leg and bend the straight leg while the upper torso rotates back to center.

4. Exhale. While switching the legs, rotate the trunk toward the opposite side. Fully straighten the one leg and bend the other toward the chest. Repeat the sequence 5 times on each leg for a total of 10 times, completing each switch of the legs and rotation of the upper trunk with a percussive exhale.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors and rotators: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique, transversus abdominis

Accompanying Muscles

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Technique Cues

• As described for the closely related One-Leg Stretch (page 82), firmly pull the abdominal wall in toward the spine in step 1, and maintain solid contact of the lower back and sacrum with the mat throughout the exercise.

• As the obliques, and potentially the transversus abdominis, rotate the upper trunk, keep the opposite side of the pelvis back so the pelvis doesn’t rock in the direction of the rotation. Maintain even contact of the pelvis with the mat.

• Use the abdominals to maintain a C curve so that the upper trunk stays lifted as it rotates.

• While maintaining core stability, dynamically reach out one leg, with the hip extensors initially acting to take the thigh away from the chest. Optimally use the knee extensors that straighten the knee and the ankle–foot plantar flexors that point the foot to achieve the desired long leg line.

• Keep the scapulae neutral, and avoid lifting them up toward your ears.

• Imagine. Think of reaching the leg out in space as if a string were attached to the toe, pulling it out to coordinate the use of the hip flexors toward the end of the reach. The hip flexors keep the leg from falling to the mat because of gravity and then begin to bring the outstretched leg up toward the chest during the switch in step 3.

Exercise Notes

Crisscross is closely related to One-Leg Stretch (page 82) but potentially offers a greater challenge to the abdominals because of the more difficult position of the hands behind the head. Furthermore, the rotation adds more multiplane stability challenges and greater work for the obliques and transversus abdominis. These muscles are key for stabilizing the spine before movement of the limbs or before impact in activities such as lifting objects, running, and jumping.

Recruitment of the obliques and transversus abdominis requires fine-tuned technique. As described in Chest Lift With Rotation (page 64), maintaining the C curve while bringing one side of the rib cage toward the opposite hip can help with the desired activation. Also try to rotate around a central axis without letting the rib cage shift to one side relative to the central axis or bend toward one side of the pelvis (spinal lateral flexion), a common mistake.

Teaser

Execution

1. Start position. Lie supine with the head and scapulae lifted off the mat and the abdominal wall drawn in toward the spine. Hold the legs together approximately 60 degrees off the mat, if stability can be maintained, with the knees straight and feet pointed. Reach forward with the arms, palms down, so the hands are parallel to the legs.

2. Inhale. Curl the upper trunk forward and upward until the body is balanced on the buttocks as shown in the main muscle illustration. Keep arms parallel to the legs.

3. Exhale. Curl the trunk back down to the start position. Repeat the sequence five times.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal flexors: rectus abdominis, external oblique, internal oblique

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris, sartorius, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip adductors: adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, gracilis

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• Focus on pulling the abdominal wall in firmly to prevent the lower back from arching or the pelvis from tilting anteriorly as the hip flexors, particularly the iliopsoas, contract forcibly to hold the legs in the air, especially when the hip flexors are helping raise and lower the torso in the upper movement ranges of steps 2 and 3.

• Keep the legs stationary throughout the exercise. Use the hip adductors to pull the legs together slightly as you reach them out in space, with the knee extensors keeping the knees straight and the ankle–foot plantar flexors pointing the feet.

• Focus on using the abdominals to achieve a smooth, sequential movement as each vertebra lifts off the mat, from the top of the spine to the bottom in step 2 and from the bottom of the spine to the top in step 3. Avoid hinging from the hips, which is evidence of excessive use of the hip flexors.

• Focus on creating a long arm line by using the elbow extensors to keep the elbows straight. At the same time, avoid elevating the scapulae toward your ears by using the scapular depressors as the shoulder flexors work to keep the arms appropriately positioned in front of the body.

• Move the arms in accordance with the legs to maintain a parallel relationship.

• Imagine. Imagine that someone is lightly holding your toes, so that the legs remain entirely stationary, as you raise and lower the trunk only.

Exercise Notes

Teaser is a signature Pilates exercise that builds abdominal and hip flexor strength and endurance while incorporating skilled spinal articulation and keen balance. It combines the fine articulation of the spine used in Roll-Up (page 73) with the legs off the mat practiced in Hundred (page 78) and Double-Leg Stretch (page 87). Also, Rocker With Open Legs (page 108) can be very helpful in practicing the balance required. If the torso is raised too high for your current hamstring flexibility, the body will tend to fall forward. If the legs are raised too high for your current hamstring flexibility and abdominal strength, the trunk will tend to fall backward. A skilled counterbalance of body segments and coordinated coactivation of abdominal and hip flexors are essential for successful execution of this form of Teaser.

Teaser was put at the end of this chapter because it requires a synthesis of many components of skills practiced with prior exercises. If inadequate strength or skill prevents optimal form, use modifications until you develop the necessary components. The weight of the legs is great, and inadequate stabilization of the pelvis and lower back can produce lower back strain or injury. Furthermore, this exercise is considered high risk by some people in the medical community and should not be performed if you experience any back discomfort or if it is contraindicated for you for any reason.

Modification

If you are having trouble smoothly rolling up to a high V position, bend the knees slightly. This slackens the hamstrings to allow a higher position of the torso and reduces the difficulty by bringing the legs closer to the pelvis so that the effect of the weight of the legs is reduced (less torque).

Variations

There are many variations for this exercise. Some schools call the exercise described here, or similar versions in which the legs stay stationary and only the trunk moves, Teaser 1. Teaser 2 involves maintaining the trunk in the lifted position while raising and lowering only the legs. Teaser 3 involves lowering both the legs and trunk simultaneously toward the mat and then lifting both simultaneously to the V position.

Many schools of Pilates training also use upper back extension, rather than a flexed spine, in the V position. This adds a valuable countermeasure for slumped posture (kyphosis) as well as practice of cocontracting the abdominals so the spinal extensors create the desired extension of the thoracic spine without creating undesired hyperextension of the lumbar spine. This variation also may incorporate bringing the arms to an overhead position while in the V position as shown and when the torso is in its low position at the end of step 3.