Pilates enthusiasts maintain that the method gives them a flat tummy like no other exercise system can. Does this sound too good to be true? And if so, how is it possible?
Pilates focuses on muscles of the intrinsic system. Many does not realize that there are muscles underneath the visible system that support our joints and bones. Imagine the muscular system as an onion with several layers. Certain layers are not evident to the eye. But they act as fundamental support for the entire body. Often, they are referred to as core muscles.
They are elusive but essential for structural reinforcement. Pilates participants must concentrate and be precise when working them.
One such vital pillar is the psoas muscle. There is one on either side that attaches the ribcage to the legs. They originate from the mid-spine (T12). They run down the lower spine, pass through the pelvis, over the hip joints to settle on the inner aspects of the legs.
The psoas is both a core and hip flexor muscle. Often overlooked, it is weak and tight among general population. Therefore, it is not sustaining the spine where it attaches. As a result, the lower spine is “dragged” lordotically (forward and down), pushing the abdominal content forward. Hence, the “pooch” in the belly.
When most people think of improving their abs, they automatically think crunches. In a crunch, the external obliques and rectus abdominis are mostly at work. When these superficial muscles overpower, they further weaken and shorten the psoas.
What would better organize the entire region is the engagement of the psoas. This way, the spine is held up long and the abdominals become strong and lean.
Beginner Pilates Exercise – Knee Folds
An example of this in Pilates is an exercise on the mat called Knee Folds, done by lying supine with both knees bent. The participant maintains stability of the pelvis and spine while mobilizing the hip joints. By alternating the legs’ lowering and lifting, he/she surrenders the overwhelming external hip flexors to seek a quieter usage of the psoas. The movement does not appear extravagant. However, by involving the psoas to control the legs, one balances the strength and flexibility of the entire abdominal area.
This is what Pilates does – reorganize the body through uniform development. When the internal muscles approach the strength of the external ones, the bones (and more importantly the spine) align. Weight-bearing can then occur through the center of all joints. The most ideal posture is revealed and the belly would not protrude.
Pilates of course, demands the collaboration of all muscle groups. The psoas does not act alone. It is an important step to rethinking the function of the abs. Instead of flexing forward to shorten the front, the core should contract like a corset to protect the spine 360 degrees. Our natural girdle shrinks around the waist to “hold in” the organs. Hence the abdominals appear flatter. All Pilates exercises require this action along with proper breathing. Ultimately, the body is reshaped by a renewed distinction of strength.