For many new Pilates students, lying on the back and lifting the head, neck, and chest into abdominal flexion is more of an aggravation on the neck than a workout for the abs. Don’t fret, this is very normal and many of us have been there. Difficulty holding the head up in these exercises is not a sign of weakness in the neck or core.
This pain can be cause by a few different conditions, and for many people it will come and go. Often the feeling of strain is cause by an old injury, or the frequent carrying of a heavy shoulder bag, or just a weird sleeping position the night before. Here’s how to get maximum results from the supine (lying on your back) ab work in Core Reform classes without straining your neck.
Lighten the straps. If you can lift your head easily without resistance from the straps, but then feel strain when you add weight, drop those springs light. You’ll create instability that targets your abdominal muscles to engage the entire time, and keep the pressure off your upper back and shoulders.
Work the legs. Keeping your head flat on your headrest of held in your hands is a great way to keep the pressure completely off the neck, but you may not feel the engagement of the front body the same way. One option is to extend your legs, engaging the lower abs. The longer and lower you extend the legs, the more intensity you will feel in the front.
Make it about the arms. One other popular option is to change the supine ab work into stability and upper body work for you, and save the abdominal curling for other exercises, like the plank, jumping, and elephant. To do this, use a heavier setting for the straps and keep your head heavy on the headrest, legs in a strong supported table top. Then, focus on mobilizing the arms and shoulders against and into resistance.
Not every exercise on the reformer is ideal for every person, every day. We hope you feel empowered to make your workout your own in all of our classes. The reformer is adaptable and can be customized to suit your personal fitness needs and goals. Please ask your instructor for any specific adjustments you need to feel your very best in and after class.