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How to Scoop the Abs in Pilates

One of the first things you'll learn in Pilates — after learning how to find neutral spine position — is how to engage the abdominal muscles in the correct way. Because the movement creates a concave feeling in the belly, this is usually referred to as "scooping the abs." When your Pilates teacher instructs you to "scoop the abs," she or he is referring to this particular movement of pulling your navel in toward your spine. Your teacher might also tell you to "pull in the abs," which refers to the same movement.

Scooping the abs stabilizes your center and protects your spine, particularly the lumbar (low-back) region, which can be injured easily if certain exercises are performed incorrectly. It engages your deepest abdominal muscles, the transversus abdominis, along with your pelvic floor muscles. This movement is used throughout a Pilates class in moves like the Hundreds, Single Leg Circles, and the Open Leg Rocker. Scooping the abs can be performed while standing, sitting, or lying down. Keep reading to learn how to scoop the abs while lying down.

Instructions

  1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your legs extended along the floor, hip-distance apart. Rest your arms at your sides with your palms facing down. Align your heels, toes, knees, and hips.
  2. Relax your shoulders. Balance your weight evenly across your shoulders and hips. Breathe deeply, letting your ribcage, neck, and jaw relax with every breath.
  3. Engage the muscles of your pelvic floor by pulling your sit bones toward each other. Pull from the base of your pelvic bowl through the center of your body, up toward the crown of your head.
  4. With your pelvic muscles engaged, begin to pull in your lower abdominal muscles, starting with the muscles just above the pubic bone. Next, draw your belly button toward your spine. Finally, pull in your upper abdominal muscles.
  5. Work toward narrowing your waist. As your belly button pulls in toward your spine, allow your ribs to lift and your spine to lengthen.
  6. Breathe naturally while scooping your abs. Then, gently release your abdominal muscles and relax your body along the floor.
Hot Tip: Zip Your Jeans

When performing this movement, you can imagine that you're zipping up a pair of tight jeans! The "sucking in" movement you make in your abdominal muscles and ribs is the same as "scooping your abs."

Modifications & Tips

Scooping your abs when performing Pilates moves will help protect your back from over-strain and injury. Keep the following information in mind when engaging your abdominal muscles in this way:

  • Make sure you are pulling in your muscles not only from the front of your body to the back, but from the sides of your trunk in toward your spine.
  • Keep your shoulders, neck, and legs relaxed.
  • Keep your body in neutral spine position. Do not tuck your pelvis or round your upper spine forward.

Scoop to Stabilize

Practicing the abdominal scoop will build strength and stability throughout your core. This will support your spine while creating greater freedom of movement throughout your body. By engaging your pelvic floor muscles along with your abdominals, you create coordination and stability throughout your entire core. With practice, scooping the abs will become second nature!

Scooping the abdominal muscles is a key movement in Pilates that protects your spine and creates stability. Read this guide to learn all about this important movement!
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