The abdominal muscles are very important when it comes to being able to move the body. The abdominal muscles are made up of many diverse fiber attachments on the front sides bottom, and back of the trunk, the mid-section and all the way down to the pelvis. Not only do these muscles flex, extend, bend and rotate the torso, the abdominal muscles can help move the pelvis, thigh, spine, head, and neck. Therefor it is important that abs muscles are strong enough to support movement and stability in the body. The abdominal muscles also play a role in breathing.
Here are a just few of the comments I often hear from my students regarding core work:
“I can’t feel my abs”
“when I try pulling my belly in, nothing happens”
“I am not seeing any change in my core”
“Core work hurts my back”
Abdominal muscles are one of the hardest muscles groups to find, move, and change. The core work in barre is often times the section that many students find most challenging, and at times frustrating. There are a variety of reasons that people may struggle with core work. Possible reasons include weakness in the abdominal muscles because of usage (e.g. sitting, lack of movement, imbalances in the muscles, irregular gait, tightness in the lower back, neck, and shoulders) and other reasons may be due to injuries and/or physical weakness in the core (e.g. pregnancies, diastasis, pelvic floor issues). Another reason that abdominal muscles are challenging to work is because the actual muscles are thinner in structure than other muscle groups in the body. The smaller muscle mass of the abs makes it more difficult for the brain to engage them, especially if they are weak. Fortunately, our bodies can use our deep abdominal muscles, called the transversus abdominals (TA), to help us compensate for the small/thin size of our abs. The TA muscle and the diaphragm (primary muscle used for breathing) are interconnected. This muscle-to-muscle connection gives our bodies the ability to activate or abs just by coughing, sneezing, laughing or exhaling sharply. This is why in core work the use of cueing for students to “exhale” or “ focus on the breathing” or “use the breath to draw belly in” are so important in core exercises.
For this core exercise I recommend using a ball or pillow to support the lower back.
Sit on the floor, knees bent, hip-distance apart, and parallel; feet are flat, pressing into the ground.
Lengthen the spine, lifting the body up and out of the waist; relax the shoulders away from the ears; draw the shoulder blades toward each other and down the back; pull the abdominal muscles in and up. Note: If you need more support for the lower back, you can place a pillow or small exercise block behind the lower back.
Hold on to the resistance band with both hands and extend the arms straight out in front of the body; lift arms up toward shoulder height.
Focus on breathing the belly in toward the spine, deep inhales and exhales. The goal of this movement is to see/feel the abdominal muscles moving with the breath, strengthening and toning the core muscles. Hold in this position breathing in and out for 10 to 20 seconds.
Start to pull the band apart just an inch or two. As you pull out on the band, try to draw the core muscles inward and together (in toward the mid-line of the body). Imagine knitting the base of the rib cage together and cinching the waist. Inhale and exhale through this exercise. Repeat 10 to 20 times.
Hold the core engagement and start to lower arms down toward the knees and then return the arms back up toward shoulder height. Focus on engaging the core as you lower and lift the arms. Repeat 10 to 20 times.