Busting the Myth of Drawing In

Movement facilitates breath & breath facilitates movement… due to the great response to the previous blog post on Breathing for Health, I am following up with another post linked to latest research emerging in the Pilates industry.

One of the most common faulty movement patterns we see in our clients when they lie on the Reformer is a flared rib cage. It’s usually coupled with a client drawing their belly in as tight as they possibly can.

I always ask them, why are you sucking your belly in so tight and most of the time they respond, I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do in Pilates.

We’ve all heard this one right?… Everyone draw your belly’s in, create a hollow or a squeeze, that will protect your back. Although it might feel safe at the time, years of training this way will cause many other postural issues – after all, this is just not functional and does not translate to everyday real-life situations.

Where the philosophy of Drawing-In came from

It started from a group of Australian researchers, who did a study on healthy individuals and the deep muscles of the core- specifically the transversus abdominis (part of the trunk muscles).

They found that the TVA would activate a fraction of a second before any movement was performed.

When they tested individuals with low back pain, they found the TVA had a delayed reaction. This lead to teachers asking clients to isolate TVA and hence the term ‘abdominal hollowing’ came to be.

The technique was meant to engage your deeper abdominal muscles, however, the problem with this was breathing diaphragmatically became much harder and focusing on isolation caused a dysfunction in the spine.

Joseph Pilates using a reformer bedYou see our muscles work as teams, this is how they function in real life, so if you hollow and isolate this TVA, what you actually do is cause a weakening of other abdominal muscles. Remember the ‘trunk’ consists of 10 muscles (the 6-pack muscle is there too). So in order to provide a stable base of support for your spine, ALL these muscles should be included.

Further more, some recent research has shown that too much ‘drawing’ in can cause bearing down on the bladder and pelvic floor, creating pelvic floor dysfunction and pre-disposition to prolapse.

So how much is too much?

What seems to work much better in terms of creating a really positive movement experience for clients is the theory “as little as possible, as much as is necessary.” That means that you don’t need to over-recruit any one muscle. This also allows the body to find the right amount of tension to support the proposed load.

An example would be the following:

In footwork on the reformer, which forms the basis of most warm-ups at Platinum Pilates, there is ABSOLUTELY no need to have your belly ‘pulled’ in as tight as you can.

If you are trying to create more stability around your pelvis, then try and concentrate on the rhythms of your SIT bones.

At Platinum Pilates, you could hear the cue, “widen the SIT bones as the carriage comes home.”

The shift away from ‘tightening’ around the middle area allows you to breathe more freely and move the body in a much more functional (real-life) way.