How to modify ‘the abdominal curl’ to keep your pelvic floor safe?
Here is a scenario: You are in a group exercise class and the instructor has asked the class to lie on their backs in preparation for the abdominal curl. You know that you have a separation in your abdominal wall or this exercise always makes you feel that need to go to the bathroom. What do you do?
Working at an appropriate level for you supersedes any ambition to keep up with the class or do the same thing – every time. It makes sense that you are exercising for your body, not someone else’s so keep this in mind when you are modifying exercises. Protecting your pelvic floor is more important than how many abdominal curls you can do and there are no prizes for incontinence which can develop if you don’t put your pelvic floor first.
Modifying the abdominal curl
Neutral spine is when the three natural curves of the spine are in alignment and there is no excessive curvature of these. From the side view, the spine curves in at the neck, out at the thorax and in again at the lumbar spine. When these are in alignment, the ear is directly over the shoulder and the pelvis is centred, so that there is no anterior or posterior tilt.
Neutral spine must always be found and maintained before any abdominal or core training commences. It is also extremely important to maintain this position when performing any other exercise format.
How to find neutral spine
- Lying a supine position with knees slightly flexed. This will mean that the feet will not be flat to the floor and that the toes will be lifted off the floor
- Place both hands under the lower back in the gap created by the lumbar spine.
- Press the lower back firmly down towards the fingers and hold for a few seconds.
- Arch the lower back up off the fingers as high as possible.
- Repeat this process three to four times until range of motion is explored
- Press the back down firmly and then raise the lower back up to a halfway point. This is neutral spine.
- Finally, holding this position, pull in the belly (between the navel and the pubic bone) and breath. The breath should not be held in this position, and this is so that the diaphragm releases so that the core muscles can maintain contraction. Concentrate on lifting and engaging the pelvic floor.
After finding neutral spine:
- Take one hand out from behind the lower back and place it on the lower abdomen across the hip bones. Keep the other hand underneath your lower back to ensure that it does not press to the floor during the abdominal curl
- Now focus on lifting your pelvic floor. Lift and hold for 2 to 3 seconds and then release. Ensure that the breathing is comfortable and easy. Perform this for 2 repetitions.
- If you still can feel a relaxation of the pelvic floor after each repetition, then focus on gently drawing your lower abdominals away from the top hand. It should only be a couple of millimetres and a focus on the lower part of the abdominals, not the navel or the upper abdominals. Perform this action at the same time as the pelvic floor lift, so only 2 or 3 seconds are required and then relax. Ensure that the breathing is staying the same and perform this for 2 repetitions.
- Now, if you are still able to feel the relaxation of the pelvic floor (if you can’t tell the difference, your pelvic floor had not contracted to being with and it is time to rest), then with a pelvic floor lift and an activation of the lower abdominals, lift the head and shoulders. Again, only for 2 to 3 seconds, and breathing is still comfortable and easy. A breath out can sometimes help with maintaining focus on the contraction, but it is not a big exhalation. The challenge here is to avoid pressing the lower back to the hand underneath it. Ideally, the neutral curve is maintained, which would mean that head and shoulder lift would not be too high. As long as you can feel a conscious relaxation of the pelvic floor after each repetition, perform as many repetitions as feel comfortable with.
Progress slowly and be vigilant and honest with yourself if you notice your back lowering to the floor, or your pelvic floor not lifting or your lower abdominals bulge into your upper hand. All of these technical errors are signs of inappropriate muscle contraction and it is