Learning how to engage your obliques is one of the most important things you ever need to know if you want to perform abdominal exercises correctly. If you can’t stand (or sit) still and turn on your external obliques right now, read on friend. Or while you’re at it, learn all of these really important Pilates concepts in my free foundations course.
Imprint using Obliques
The term “Imprint” is used so often in Pilates, I say it in my sleep. Good ole Joe came up with the term “imprint” because he was, in fact, imprinting each spinal vertebra into the mat. In response, the pelvis would also tip back rather far into what we call a “posterior pelvic tilt.”
For traditional reasons, the terminology is here to stay, but the way I prefer to teach it now has changed a bit. I like to make it more about the OBLIQUES and less about laying down the vertebra or tucking the pelvis. If you prefer learning via video over reading here’s a video I made explaining this concept.
Among Pilates teachers, there are different opinions on this and tends to be a huge differentiator between modern and traditional Pilates. I’m a fan of modern Pilates and hold firm on my stance. I believe the oblique-y “imprint” approach is more biomechanically sound for the body. I have also seen it improve lumbar spine issues in a ton of my clients, so I’m sticking with what works.
You may have read this in my post on the Transversus Abdominis, if you think you need to:
- tuck your butt under
- smash your low back down to the mat
- put your hands under your glutes (butt cheeks)
- or anything along these lines…
before doing abdominal work, you are doing a disservice to your abdominals. It’s time to rewire the brain and start learning how to do this correctly.
When to Imprint
We want to imprint to prepare our torso for an open chain exercise, meaning legs coming up off the ground. This will provide pelvic stability and a ton of lumbar spine support. Goodbye low back problems.
All of this support is provided by simply engaging the obliques. In this post, I’m teaching you how to mind-body connect with your obliques. You need to make them engage (or fire), while you are laying on your back before you lift your legs, ok!?
Obliques will also fire with trunk movement such as rotational trunk exercises or lateral flexion. However, adding this “imprint” mind-body connection will result in even better oblique performance during the exercise.
How to turn on your Obliques
- I teach my clients by having them lay on their back with, with their knees bent and their feet hip width apart on the floor.
- Then, place the 2 thumbs on the 2 lowest ribs and the middle fingers on the hip bones directly beneath. This creates a diamond shape with the hands laying on the torso.
- On the exhale (through pursed lips), the rib cage should slide down towards the hips and the hips should slightly shift up towards the ribs. The diamond shape will synch closer, making the diamond shape smaller. Additionally, the thumbs will help guide the rib cage down giving the body some great tactile feedback. The muscles love tactile feedback and fire really well when provided!
- Here’s a video I made to show you how to do this.
Things to note:
- We are leaving the pelvis rather still, just a slight post tilt happens (pelvic post tilt is when the pubic bone tips towards the ceiling).
- The butt is not tucking under; therefore, the glutes are not engaging.
- The lumbar spine (lower back) could still fit a blueberry underneath it without getting smashed.
Try it Out
Lay on the floor and try to follow the directions described in the paragraph above or follow along with the video. You can also play around with these other movements to get a better understanding of how your muscles are firing.
After you do the new, correct way. Try the “smash your back down” and “tuck your pelvis” way. Notice that when you do the incorrect one, you typically engage glutes, press the spine down and don’t actually engage the abdominals much at all! Mind blown.
Now that you’ve learned, forget that old way and go back to the real oblique firing method. Preserve that lumbar curve by keeping a blueberry sized space behind lower back as you shorten obliques and draw the rib cage closer to the hips.
Ahhhh, shortened obliques, tons of pelvic stability and support, and a happy-ever-after lumbar spine 🙂
Start applying it
Start applying this connection in all of your exercises where your feet are in the air. Be sure to keep the connection the whole time, if the ribcage pops back up, you need to modify the exercise a bit. Also apply the connection when performing exercises that work the obliques such as rotational exercises and lateral flexion.
This is a simple foundation of Pilates movement and is super important, if you mind blown and need to learn all of the others, here’s my free foundation course.