Pilates Anatomy

Chapter 8

Side Exercises for an Effective Core

This chapter focuses on lateral flexion and rotation of the spine. Using lateral flexion and rotation is one way to place greater emphasis on the obliques versus the rectus abdominis. As described in chapter 2, the muscle fibers of the obliques are located more toward the sides of the trunk. These oblique muscles, particularly the internal oblique muscles, act with the transversus abdominis to protect the back and stabilize the core when the limbs move. Many athletic and recreational endeavors, such as swimming, kayaking, golf, throwing sports, and tennis, involve extensive use of the obliques. Improving your understanding, strength, and coordinated use of the obliques can enhance athletic performance and prevent back injuries. Therefore, include exercises from this chapter in every workout unless contraindicated for you.

The first three exercises require a sideways trunk position. This position changes the relationship of the trunk to the ground, so the lateral spinal flexors have to counter the effect of gravity. The obliques are key lateral spinal flexors. The quadratus lumborum and spinal extensors can also produce lateral flexion. Excessive contraction of the obliques combined with inadequate use of the spinal extensors will cause the trunk to round forward (spinal flexion) and flex laterally. Conversely, excessive contraction of the spinal extensors will cause the back to arch (spinal extension) and flex laterally. Therefore, finely coordinated contraction of the anterior and posterior muscles of the spine is required to achieve the desired position. This challenge is made more difficult by the fact that the spine is made up of many joints, with the lower back naturally curving opposite the upper back. Hence, side positions can be valuable practice for maintaining a neutral position of the pelvis and lower spine and learning the skill of bracing. Bracing can foster the transfer of core stabilization to many activities of daily living. Side Kick (page 150) and Side Kick Kneeling (page 152) use the lateral flexors as stabilizers while one leg swings. Side Bend (page 154) uses the lateral flexors as prime movers as the trunk is lowered and raised from a position of side support on one arm and the feet.

The remaining exercises use rotation. Spine Twist (page 158) and Saw (page 161) use the spinal rotators from a sitting position. Again, the obliques are emphasized, but coordinated use of the spinal extensors is essential to achieve the flat back position. Twist (page 164) adds rotation to Side Bend, a challenging combination of lateral flexion and rotation for those with adequate strength and skill. Corkscrew (page 168) and Hip Twist With Stretched Arms (page 171) emphasize rotation of the pelvis rather than rotation of the upper trunk. The pelvis is a vital link when transferring forces from and to the ground. Improving coordinated control of the pelvis is often neglected but highly needed. Note that these last two exercises are very advanced. Improper execution or a preexisting back condition could result in back injury. They should be attempted only after you have gained proficiency with related preparatory exercises to allow proper execution and only if your medical provider considers them appropriate for you.

Side Kick

Execution

1. Start position. Lie on one side, with both legs slightly forward relative to the trunk and the feet gently pointed. Bend both elbows, interlace the fingers behind the head, and lift the head off the mat.

2. Inhale. Bring the top leg forward, slightly backward, and then, moving gently, forward just a little farther as shown.

3. Exhale. Bring the top leg backward, slightly forward, and then, moving gently, backward just a little farther. See the main muscle illustration. Repeat the sequence 10 times. Do the same on the opposite leg.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal lateral flexors and stabilizers: external oblique, internal oblique, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group, rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, tensor fasciae latae, sartorius

Accompanying Muscles

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Technique Cues

• In the start position, use the spinal lateral flexors on the side closest to the mat to pull the pelvis up slightly toward the rib cage so the waist begins to lift off the mat. Attempt to maintain this distance between the pelvis and rib cage throughout the exercise.

• Use the hip abductors to keep the top leg parallel to the mat in steps 2 and 3; do not let it drop down. Use the hip flexors to bring the leg forward and the hip extensors to bring the leg back. Simultaneously the knee extensors keep the knee straight, and the ankle–foot plantar flexors point the foot.

• Emphasize using the spinal stabilizers to keep the body on its side and to limit the forward or backward rocking or rotating of the trunk, tilting of the pelvis, or arching of the back as the leg moves. In step 3, particularly focus on using adequate abdominal contraction and bringing the leg back only slightly to limit the amount of anterior pelvic tilt for safety and to maximize the dynamic stretch of the hip flexors.

• Imagine. Imagine the leg swinging forward freely at the hip joint, with a gentle recoil at the end of the range of movement before going farther in the same direction, and then swinging backward to repeat the same recoil action, with little movement of the trunk.

Exercise Notes

Side Kick is a valuable exercise for developing core stability. Lying on one side makes it difficult to maintain balance in a forward–backward direction because of the narrow base of support. The leg swing makes this balance challenge more difficult, making muscles on the sides, front, and back of the spine work in a coordinated manner to maintain equilibrium. If adequate stability of the spine and pelvis is maintained, Side Kick also offers dynamic flexibility benefits for the hamstrings and hip flexors. In this side-lying position, the hip abductors of the top leg have to work to prevent the leg from lowering because of gravity. Increased muscular endurance and tone in these muscles are desirable additional benefits.

Variations

Perform the exercise with the upper trunk lifted off the mat as you rest on the elbow as shown for greater challenge for the spinal lateral flexors, the scapular stabilizers, and balance. Flexing the foot (ankle–foot dorsiflexion) as the leg comes forward will emphasize the dynamic hamstring stretch. Reverse the breath pattern, with a percussive breath accompanying the double pulse in both directions.

Side Kick Kneeling

Execution

1. Start position. Kneel and bend the trunk to the side. Place one palm on the mat, with the fingers pointing away from the knee. Place the other hand behind your head, with the elbow bent and pointing toward the ceiling. Lift the leg farthest from the support arm to about hip height.

2. Inhale. Bring the raised leg forward. See the main muscle illustration.

3. Exhale. Bring the raised leg backward as shown. Repeat the sequence five times. Do the same on the opposite leg.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal lateral flexors and stabilizers: external oblique, internal oblique, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group, rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, tensor fasciae latae, sartorius

Accompanying Muscles

Hip flexors: iliopsoas, rectus femoris

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder abductors: middle deltoid, supraspinatus

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

Scapular abductors: serratus anterior

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• Throughout the exercise, think of the body forming an arc from the head to the support knee. Press into the mat with the hand, and use the shoulder abductors to help lift the upper trunk, the spinal lateral flexors on the side of the body closest to the mat to lift the spine, and the hip abductors to lift the lower side of the pelvis, all to help form this arc.

• As you press into the mat, use the elbow extensors to keep the elbow straight while keeping the lower scapula down and reaching toward the mat with the use of the scapular depressors and abductors, particularly the serratus anterior.

• Maintain a long line of the raised leg as it swings, using the knee extensors to straighten the knee and the ankle–foot plantar flexors to point the foot.

• Focus on keeping the raised leg at the appropriate height by using the hip abductors while the hip flexors bring the leg forward and the hip extensors bring it slightly back.

• Imagine. Think of the body as an arched bridge, with the arm providing an upright support as the leg swings freely forward and backward without disrupting the strong bridge structure.

Exercise Notes

Side Kick Kneeling offers many of the same benefits as Side Kick (page 150), but it increases the stability challenge since you are supported by just one knee and one straight arm. It also increases the work of the spinal lateral flexors on the side closest to the mat, particularly the obliques, to maintain the side-arched position of the trunk. Last, it provides important practice for using the shoulder abductors and scapular stabilizers on the support arm, a skill that will be used in a much more difficult manner in the upcoming Side Bend (page 154) and Twist (page 164).

Variations

Perform the exercise with the support knee almost directly under the hip joint and the swinging leg held as high as possible to add greater challenge to the hip abductors. A double-leg pulse and the foot positioning and percussive breath pattern described in the Side Kick variations (page 151) can also be used.

Side Bend

Execution

1. Start position. Sit with the body rotated to the side, the weight supported by one arm, the lower side of the pelvis, and the lower foot. One palm is on the mat, with the fingers pointing away from the pelvis. The knees are bent, with the top hand resting on the side of the top knee as shown. From this position, lift the trunk up, straightening the knees and the upper arm while keeping the top arm close to the side of the body as shown.

2. Inhale. Turn the head toward the upper shoulder, and lower the lower part of the trunk until the lower calf comes in contact with the mat while the bottom arm remains straight as shown.

3. Exhale. Lift the trunk back up to the start position, and then bring the upper arm overhead, palm facing up and the head facing front. See the main muscle illustration. Repeat the sequence five times, and then bend the knees to lower to the early start position. Repeat the exercise on the opposite side.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal lateral flexors and stabilizers: external oblique, internal oblique, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group (especially multifidus), rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis

Shoulder abductors: middle deltoid, supraspinatus, anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

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

Scapular abductors: serratus anterior, pectoralis minor

Accompanying Muscles

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Shoulder adductors: pectoralis major with latissimus dorsi

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• In the last part of step 1 and in step 3, think of making an arc from the head to the support foot by pressing into the mat with the support hand and using the shoulder abductors to help lift the lower side of the upper trunk, the spinal lateral flexors to lift the lower side of the spine, and the hip abductors to lift the lower side of the pelvis.

• As you press into the mat, emphasize using the elbow extensors to keep the elbow straight while carefully avoiding elbow hyperextension. Simultaneously use the scapular depressors to keep the bottom of the scapula down and reach toward the mat with the scapular abductors, particularly the serratus anterior.

• In step 3, focus on arching the trunk and taking the top arm up and over the support arm, like water projecting out of a drinking fountain. To emphasize the lifted feeling, coordinate the peak of the arch of the upper torso with the peak of the arm movement overhead. The movement of the top arm is produced by concentric use of the shoulder abductors, followed by eccentric contraction of the shoulder adductors to control the lowering after the arm has passed vertical.

• In between steps 1 and 3, emphasize the lowering of the trunk in a smooth, controlled manner, using the same muscles described in the first cue, only now in an eccentric manner. Also, pay particular care to use the scapular depressors to prevent the support shoulder from rising toward the ear. Time the lowering of the top arm to return to the side of the body as the pelvis reaches its lowest point. Initially use the shoulder adductors and then the shoulder abductors eccentrically after the top arm passes vertical.

• Imagine. As the trunk rises and lowers, try to keep the body flat, as if moving between two parallel plates of glass. Use the knee extensors to keep the knees straight and the hip extensors to keep the hip joints extended, the thighs in line with the pelvis. The abdominals, spinal extensors, and other spinal stabilizers are used to maintain a flat back without the pelvis rotating or tilting either forward or backward.

Exercise Notes

Side Bend represents a very large jump in difficulty from Side Kick (page 150) and Side Kick Kneeling (page 152) in terms of lateral flexion, trunk stabilization, and shoulder use since just the feet and one arm support the body. This position makes this an excellent exercise for developing side trunk stability and muscular strength of the spinal lateral flexors. For many people, the biggest potential benefit is increased strength in the shoulder abductors and scapular stabilizers. In various phases of the exercise, gravity attempts to elevate or adduct the scapula. The scapular depressors, particularly the serratus anterior, must act to keep the scapula down and wide, abducted away from the spine, in its neutral position. If inadequate strength or coordination prevents you from doing this exercise with good form, you may experience shoulder discomfort or injury. Therefore, work in as small a range of motion as necessary to maintain good scapular mechanics, or modify the exercise.

Modification

Begin the exercise in the initial start position with only the bottom knee resting on the mat. Lift the trunk with the weight supported on one arm and the bottom knee rather than the feet.

Variations

Perform the exercise with the foot of the upper leg on the mat in front of the foot of the bottom leg as shown to provide a wider base of support and aid with balance. For an alternative breath pattern, lift on the inhale to the side plank position, with the top arm rising to shoulder height (T position). Exhale as you raise your pelvis and bring the arm overhead. Inhale to return to T position, and exhale to lower the pelvis until it is just above or slightly touches the mat.

Spine Twist

Execution

1. Start position. Sit with the legs together and outstretched to the front, feet flexed (ankle–foot dorsiflexion). The arms are straight and out to the sides, reaching slightly back, at shoulder height with the palms facing down.

2. Exhale. Rotate the upper trunk to one side and then slightly farther in that same direction. See the main muscle illustration.

3. Inhale. Rotate the upper trunk back to center (start position).

4. Exhale. Rotate the upper trunk to the opposite side and then slightly farther in that same direction.

5. Inhale. Rotate the trunk back to center (start position). Repeat the sequence 5 times on each side, 10 times in total.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal rotators: external oblique, internal oblique, erector spinae (longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group (especially multifidus)

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Ankle–foot dorsiflexors: tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus

Shoulder abductors: middle deltoid, supraspinatus

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Scapular adductors: trapezius, rhomboids

Technique Cues

• In the start position, focus on pulling the abdominal wall in and up as you think of lifting up from the base of the lower back to maintain a vertical position of the spine throughout the exercise.

• Emphasize rotating above the pelvis so that the pelvis remains stationary and facing forward as the spinal rotators twist the spine from the lower back to the base of the head.

• Reach the arms to the sides, with the shoulder abductors keeping the arms at shoulder height while the elbow extensors straighten the elbows and help create the desired long line. Simultaneously pull your shoulder blades together very slightly with the scapular adductors. Maintain this position of the arms relative to the upper trunk as you rotate.

• Imagine. Imagine the spine spiraling up as it twists so that it feels as if your head is getting closer to the ceiling as you rotate.

Exercise Notes

Spine Twist shares some of the same benefits as Spine Twist Supine (page 62). However, the vertical position of the spine in Spine Twist provides additional value because you are in a similar position to one used in many everyday activities and athletic activities, such as golf and tennis. Also, keeping the body upright against gravity challenges the trunk musculature in a slightly different way. Learning to use the powerhouse rather than the shoulders for rotation is key to this exercise and fundamental for creating optimal athletic performance and preventing common injuries to the back.

Sitting trunk rotation. When you rotate to the right while in a sitting position, the left external and right internal obliques generally act as the prime movers. However, if they acted alone, they also would make the torso bend forward since they are spinal flexors as well as rotators. Appropriate activation of the spinal extensors is necessary to keep the spine vertical. As shown in the illustration, these extensors, particularly the right longissimus, right iliocostalis, left semispinalis, and left multifidus, also assist with right rotation of the trunk. Appropriate cocontraction of these and other muscles allows the spine to rotate without bending forward or arching backward.

Variations

This exercise can also be performed with the arms directly out to the sides, the scapulae in a neutral position, and the shoulders externally rotated with the palms facing up. In addition, a percussive breath can accompany the double pulse in each direction.

Saw

Execution

1. Start position. Sit with the trunk upright, legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees straight, and feet flexed (ankle–foot dorsiflexion). Hold the arms out to the sides at shoulder height, reaching slightly back, with elbows straight and palms facing down.

2. Inhale. Rotate the upper trunk to one side as shown, and then bring the head and upper spine forward and downward so that the hand reaches to the outside of the opposite foot, if your current flexibility allows, while the back arm internally rotates and reaches back and slightly upward.

3. Exhale. Very gently reach the arm slightly farther forward with three consecutive sawlike motions. See the main muscle illustration. Bring the trunk up to vertical, and then rotate back to the start position.

4. Inhale. Rotate the upper trunk to the opposite side, and repeat the rest of step 2 on this new side.

5. Exhale. Perform step 3 on this new side. Repeat the sequence 5 times on each side, 10 times in total.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal rotators: external oblique, internal oblique, erector spinae (longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group

Spinal extensors: erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Ankle–foot dorsiflexors: tibialis anterior, extensor digitorum longus

Shoulder abductors: middle deltoid, supraspinatus

Shoulder flexors: anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Scapular adductors: trapezius, rhomboids

Technique Cues

• In step 1 and the first part of step 2 and step 4, apply the technique cues described for Spine Twist (page 158), particularly focusing on the coordinated contraction of the abdominals and spinal extensors to rotate the upper trunk while it remains vertical.

• In the late part of step 2 and step 4, smoothly roll the spine down, controlling it by an eccentric contraction of the spinal extensors. The pelvis remains facing forward, with both sit bones firmly in contact with the mat.

• As the hand reaches forward in step 3 and step 5, think of gently lengthening the spine slightly farther with each sawlike motion. Avoid using large bounces, which could be injurious to the spine. Simultaneously, gently draw in the abdominal wall to avoid an anterior tilt of the pelvis.

• Focus on reaching the arms in opposite directions in steps 2 through 5, particularly as the front arm moves forward and the shoulder flexors become key in preventing it from lowering toward the mat and as the back arm internally rotates, reaching and lifting to the back with the use of the shoulder extensors.

• During the roll-up in step 3 and step 5, continue to use the abdominals to pull in the abdominal wall. Simultaneously use the spinal extensors to return the spine to vertical by stacking one vertebra at a time on the sacrum, from the lumbar spine upward.

• When rotating the upper trunk back to center at the end of steps 3 and 5, focus on reaching the head up toward the ceiling to encourage slight cocontraction of the spinal extensors while the obliques primarily affect the rotation.

• Simultaneously return the arms to their start position. Think of reaching the arms out to the sides, with the little fingers pressing slightly back to encourage activation of the scapular adductors as the shoulder abductors work to keep the arms at shoulder height and the elbow extensors work to keep the elbows straight.

• Imagine. During the rotation of the trunk, imagine the upper spine is like a screwdriver, maintaining a vertical position as it twists to tighten or loosen a screw on the top of a table. The legs and pelvis act like the table, staying stationary as only the screw and screwdriver move.

Exercise Notes

As with Spine Twist (page 158), Saw is beneficial for learning to rotate the trunk by using the core muscles while maintaining a vertical position. However, in Saw, the trunk also moves off vertical, which offers valuable practice for applying spinal articulation in a rotated position when the spine rolls down and then back up. Furthermore, the position with the spine flexed forward provides a dynamic stretch for the lower back and hamstrings from an off-center position.

Variation

Change the start position so the arms are directly out to the sides, the scapulae in neutral position, and the shoulders externally rotated so that the palms are forward. To deemphasize primarily flexing the upper back and place greater emphasis on stretching the hamstrings, hold the thoracic spine in extension while placing greater emphasis on flexing at the hip joint, with the sit bones reaching back as the spine reaches forward as shown. In this variation, thoracic and hip extension, not a gradual articulation of the spine, are emphasized on the return to vertical (step 3 and step 5).

Twist

Execution

1. Start position. Sit with the body rotated to the side. Support your weight on one arm (palm on the mat with the fingers pointing away from the pelvis), the lower side of the pelvis, and the feet (foot of the top leg in front of the other foot). Knees are bent, with the top hand resting on the side of the top knee.

2. Inhale. Lift the trunk toward the ceiling as the legs straighten and the top arm rises overhead as shown. See the front view of the muscle illustration. The head can face forward or slightly down.

3. Exhale. Rotate the upper trunk toward the mat as shown.

4. Inhale. Rotate back to the position of step 2, as shown in the back view of the muscle illustration.

5. Exhale. Bend the knees and lower the trunk and top arm toward the start position, stopping with the pelvis just above the mat, if good form can be maintained. If necessary, lower to the point at which the mat provides a brief moment of support. Repeat the sequence five times. Do the same on the opposite side.

Targeted Muscles

Spinal lateral flexors and rotators: external oblique, internal oblique, quadratus lumborum, erector spinae (spinalis, longissimus, iliocostalis), semispinalis, deep posterior spinal group, rectus abdominis, iliopsoas

Shoulder abductors: middle deltoid, supraspinatus, anterior deltoid, pectoralis major (clavicular)

Shoulder horizontal abductors: infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid, middle deltoid, teres major, latissimus dorsi

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

Scapular abductors: serratus anterior, pectoralis minor

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

Hip abductors: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Knee flexors: hamstrings

Shoulder adductors: pectoralis major with latissimus dorsi

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• See the technique cues for Side Bend (page 154) for a more detailed description of the muscles working in step 2.

• In step 2, press the support arm into the mat and use the shoulder abductors, spinal lateral flexors, and hip abductors to lift the lower side of the body and create an arc from the head to the feet. The hip extensors and knee extensors straighten the legs and bring them in line with the pelvis.

• As the pelvis is lifting, smoothly raise the top arm overhead, initially using the shoulder abductors to lift the arm. After the arm passes vertical, eccentrically use the shoulder adductors to prevent gravity from lowering the arm too far. Use the scapular abductors of the bottom arm to keep the scapula in its desired wide position and to counter the tendency of gravity to bring the scapula toward the spine.

• In step 3, use the spinal rotators to bring the upper trunk to face down toward the mat. Use the obliques to maximize the rotation as the erector spinae work eccentrically to control the rotary effects of gravity. In this rotated end position, the shoulder flexors and horizontal abductors hold the free arm up, preventing it from falling toward the mat or across the body.

• In step 4, use the erector spinae to rotate the trunk in the opposite direction, while the abdominals assist with the rotation and keep the lower back from arching.

• In step 5, eccentrically use the shoulder abductors, spinal lateral flexors, and hip abductors of the lower side of the body to control the body as it lowers toward the mat. The knee flexors slowly bend the knees. At this point, the scapular depressors of the support arm prevent undesired lifting of the scapulae, while the shoulder adductors begin and the shoulder abductors continue eccentrically to control the lowering of the top arm.

• Throughout the exercise, provide controlled support with the bottom arm. The elbow extensors keep the elbow straight. Various shoulder and scapular muscles come into play as the trunk changes its relationship to the support arm and gravity, with the shoulder horizontal abductors playing a particularly key role eccentrically in step 3 and concentrically in step 4.

• Imagine. Visualize a dolphin breaching the water, arcing and then spiraling as it reenters the water. Then reverse this visualization as if playing a film backward.

Exercise Notes

Think of Twist as adding rotation to the challenges of Side Bend (page 154). Twist should not be performed until proficiency with Side Bend has been achieved. Although Twist is not shown in Return to Life Through Contrology, it is commonly performed in a variety of ways by different schools of Pilates training. The version described here reflects a clear direct progression from Side Bend. Twist is a very challenging exercise that recruits a large number of muscles in different phases of the movement. Two key potential benefits it offers relate to rotational core stability, as well as strength and complex coordination of vital muscles of the shoulder complex. In Twist, one shoulder not only supports a great deal of the body weight but also moves through a large range of motion while bearing this weight. Therefore, excellent mechanics of the shoulder are required when performing Twist to reap the potential benefits and prevent potentially serious injury.

Variations

Twist can also be performed by bringing the top arm to the T position, aligned with the shoulders in steps 2 and 4, rather than overhead. As the top arm reaches under the body, lift the hips high to maximize spinal rotation and create a pyramid shape, with the legs straight and the thoracic spine extended as much as hamstring flexibility allows. An even more challenging variation is to keep the knees straight throughout, including during the lifting and lowering phases (steps 2 and 5).

Corkscrew (Corkscrew Advanced)

Execution

1. Start position. Perform Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112) to get into position with the legs overhead and approximately parallel to the mat.

2. Exhale. Twist the lower trunk so that one side of the body comes closer to the mat. Both legs shift to that side as the trunk and legs begin to lower as shown.

3. Inhale. Circle the legs down on that side, across center, up on the opposite side as shown in the main muscle illustration, and then overhead to the center start position.

4. Exhale. Shift the lower trunk and both legs to the side opposite that used in step 2.

5. Inhale. Circle the legs down that side, through the center, and up the other side, returning overhead to the center start position. Repeat the sequence three times on each side, six times in total, alternating sides with each exhale.

Targeted Muscles

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

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

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Spinal extensors and posterior rotators: erector spinae

Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings

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

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid

Technique Cues

• Apply the technique cues described for Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112), including using the abdominals to posteriorly tilt the pelvis and sequentially flex the spine as you roll up and over in step 1.

• As the lower trunk rotates in steps 2 through 5, allow the legs to shift with the pelvis so that the legs maintain their same relationship to the midline of the front of the pelvis.

• In steps 3 and 5, the hip extensors start the movement as the legs circle down, but in the lower arc of the circle, the hip flexors work eccentrically to control the legs as they lower and then concentrically to help begin the up circle to the other side. Take particular care to make the circles small enough, and use adequate abdominal contraction to prevent the lower back from arching or the pelvis from anteriorly tilting.

• As the legs circle, think of pressing down into the mat with the arms at the appropriate time so the shoulder extensors can help raise the lower torso or keep both shoulders in full contact with the mat. The spinal rotation occurs below the armpits, with complex use of the spinal rotators, particularly the abdominals, concentrically working to produce rotation of the spine and pelvis and then eccentrically working to control the rotation in different phases of the movement.

• Throughout the exercise, think of gently squeezing the inner thighs together to activate the hip adductors while the knee extensors keep the legs straight and the ankle–foot plantar flexors point the feet to create a long, arrowlike leg line. As the legs circle to the sides, the hip adductors of the bottom leg help keep the legs lifted to the desired height.

• Imagine. Imagine drawing a circle with your feet, using a very strong core to help the legs maintain their appropriate relationship to the moving pelvis.

Exercise Notes

Corkscrew incorporates the challenges of spinal articulation and core stability of Rollover With Legs Spread (page 112), but it markedly increases the difficulty since you must circle the legs to the sides rather than just move them up and down to the front. Bringing the legs and pelvis to one side tends to cause the whole trunk to move to that side. But complex rotational stabilization keeps the shoulders and upper back in full contact with the mat as the lower trunk rotates without the lower back excessively arching or the ribs jutting forward. In addition to developing stabilization skills, the overhead position of Corkscrew can provide dynamic flexibility benefits for the hamstrings and lower back.

Although Corkscrew offers many potential benefits, the combination of rotation and flexion or extension of the spine puts the body in a very vulnerable position. In addition, this exercise requires weighted flexion of the upper back and neck, previously seen in Rollover With Legs Spread. Perform this exercise only if it is appropriate for you and after you have achieved proficiency with Spine Twist Supine (page 62) and Rollover With Legs Spread.

Modifications

Begin and end each circle with the legs at 90 degrees (vertical) and the back of the pelvis flat on the mat rather than with the legs overhead and the pelvis off the mat. Bend the knees slightly if the hamstrings are tight or to make stabilization easier. When stabilization improves, progress to the overhead position if it is appropriate for you.

After progressing to the overhead position, if the hamstrings or lower back are tight, bend the knees slightly or allow the feet to be as far from the mat as necessary to facilitate supporting the body weight primarily on the upper back and shoulders, not the neck.

Variation

This exercise can also be done with an inhale for the initial part of the circle (upper section) and an exhale for the remainder of the circle (lower section) to encourage activation of the deep abdominal muscles to help keep the lower back pressed against the mat and prevent the common error of allowing the back to arch as the legs move down and away from the center. The illustrations show inadequate and adequate abdominal stabilization.

Hip Twist With Stretched Arms (Hip Circles Prep)

Execution

1. Start position. Start rocked back on the sit bones to balance, with the arms behind the trunk and the palms of the hands flat on the mat, fingers pointing back. Hold the legs in a V position.

2. Exhale. Rotate the pelvis, shifting both legs to one side of the body as shown, down on that side, and across center.

3. Inhale. Continue the circle, bringing the legs up the opposite side as shown, rotating the pelvis to that side (see the main muscle illustration), and then bringing the legs and pelvis back to the center start position.

4. Exhale. Rotate the pelvis and bring both legs to the side of the body opposite that in step 2, down on that side, and across center.

5. Inhale. Continue the circle, bringing the legs up the side opposite that of step 3, rotating the pelvis to that side and then bringing the legs and pelvis back to the center start position. Repeat the sequence three times on each side, six times in total, alternating sides with each exhale.

Targeted Muscles

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

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

Accompanying Muscles

Anterior spinal stabilizer: transversus abdominis

Spinal extensors and posterior rotators: erector spinae

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

Knee extensors: quadriceps femoris

Ankle–foot plantar flexors: gastrocnemius, soleus

Shoulder extensors: latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid

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

Elbow extensors: triceps brachii

Technique Cues

• In the start position, allow the pelvis to posteriorly tilt, but use the shoulder extensors and upper spinal extensors to lift the upper back. Use the scapular depressors to pull the scapulae down slightly to limit the natural elevation of the scapulae that accompanies the end range of shoulder extension.

• Use the spinal flexors and anterior rotators to twist the lower trunk while the shoulders remain directly forward. The feet maintain their alignment with the midline of the pelvis throughout the circling in steps 2 through 5.

• Take extra care to use adequate abdominal stabilization, and keep the circles small enough so your lower back does not arch and your pelvis does not tilt anteriorly.

• Throughout the exercise, think of gently pulling the inner thighs together to activate the hip adductors. The knee extensors keep the legs straight, and the ankle–foot plantar flexors point the feet so a long, arrowlike leg line is maintained.

• Imagine. Imagine that your feet are holding a laser beam that must keep its light shining on the midline of the pelvis, extending up from the pubic symphysis. Although the legs move up or down relative to the pelvis as they circle, the pelvis and legs always face the same direction as the pelvis shifts from side to side.

Exercise Notes

Hip Twist With Stretched Arms provides similar potential benefits to those offered by Corkscrew (page 168), especially in terms of complex rotational stabilization. However, the challenge increases since the more upright position requires greater balance and puts the hip flexors in a shortened position, so greater strength is required to support the legs. Although potentially offering valuable benefits in terms of hip flexor strength, as well as dynamic hamstring and shoulder flexor flexibility, this is a very advanced exercise that requires excellent form to reduce risk to the lower back. Perform it only if not contraindicated for your back, and initially use the modifications, if needed.

Modifications

If your hamstrings are tight or you have difficulty keeping the pelvis and lower back stable, perform the movement with the knees slightly bent or while leaning farther back, supported on the forearms.

Variation

The breathing pattern can be reversed; inhale as the pelvis rotates and the legs are taken to one side, and then exhale as the legs circle down and around to promote core stability.