Here are some exercise I do with my students in class to help gain a better understanding of how the deep abdominal muscles can be activated.
Imagine the core as a cylinder–extending from the upper two ribs down into the depths of the pelvic floor. The whole system of muscles, bones and other tissues works together in a coordinated way. As you inhale, the diaphragm lowers; the ribs expand, articulating with the thoracic spine; the upper two ribs dance with the fascia of your cervical spine; and the pelvic floor stretches, freeing the hip joints.
The awareness exercises below can be integrated into a exercise warm-up that has a functional, postnatal or mind-body theme. These movements do not require great effort. In fact, large, forceful movements restrict the brain’s ability to make sensory distinctions, while small movements allow the central nervous system to integrate more efficient movement patterns (Peck 2008).
Perform all movements lying on your back with knees bent and feet hip-distance apart. Do sets of 5 repetitions with a short rest after each movement.
Exercise #1: Grounding the Feet to the Pelvic Floor
This exercise brings awareness to the pelvic floor, the base of the cylinder and its connection to the foot. Return to this awareness in other exercises like bridge, lunges or squats.
•Gently engage your pelvic floor to about 30%, and slowly let it go. Do you co-contract your abdominals as you do this? Your buttocks? Do the left (L) and right (R) sides of the pelvic floor engage equally?
•Slowly tilt the R knee toward the midline without letting the pelvis rock. Feel how this movement causes the ischium, or “sit bone,” to move away from the midline, causing the pelvic floor to stretch.
•Move the R knee away from the midline and feel how the ischium comes toward the midline and the pelvic floor shortens.
•Shift the weight on the R foot toward the outer edge, so that the inside of the foot lifts slightly away from the floor, and sense what happens in the pelvic floor.
•Shift weight to the inside of the R foot. What happens now?
•Repeat with the L leg.
Exercise #2: Sounding in the Cylinder
This exercise brings awareness to three areas of the cylinder. Integrate this exercise into dynamic exercises like medicine ball slam or jump-squat prep.
•Place your hands 2 inches below your navel. Inhale through your nose and allow your abdomen to expand in all directions. As you exhale, softly draw in the space just below your navel and make a “sshhh” sound. Feel how the abdominal muscles and pelvic floor gradually contract.
•Lay your hands on the outside of your ribs with your elbows on the ground. Inhale, feeling the ribs expand into your hands. Exhale, making a snakelike “s-s-s” sound as the ribs move away from your hands.
•Rest your hands on your chest, elbows on the ground and fingers on your clavicles. As you inhale, allow the breath to rise up into the space under your hands. Exhale with a “hhhhaaaa” sound and sense how the sternum softens downward and the throat expands.
Come try a class or persaonl traning session to learn more!