Ab Prep: The Pilates Move That’s Better Than a Crunch

Sure, ab prep looks like half of a crunch. However, with concentration on the correct working muscles, it actually is more beneficial for your core strength than the traditional crunch or sit-up.

Frequently, when we do crunches or sit-ups our goal changes from working our abdominals to lifting ourselves up in the air. That lift becomes our focus and our body will recruit whatever muscles necessary to accomplish this task. What this means is that your ab exercise has probably just turned in to a hip flexor gripping exercise. The abs are now taking a back seat and are relatively unengaged.

Ab Prep

Ab Prep Set-Up

  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, heels in line with your SITs bones.
  2. Check to make sure that your pelvis is in neutral. (If you’re unsure of how to do this, here is my article on Imprint and finding a neutral pelvis.)
  3. Make sure that your rib cage is in neutral. (If you’re not sure of how to do this, here is my article on rib cage placement.)
  4. Broaden the collarbones and reach your arms along the mat beside you. Send energy from your finger tips like you’re reaching for your heels.
  5. Slightly tuck the chin so that you have a neutral head and cervical spine placement. (If you’re not sure how to do this, here’s my article on neutral head and spine placement.)
  6. Now that we are in neutral position, take a moment and let yourself relax. Release any muscle tension you might have, especially in the abdominal area. Let gravity be your friend and help you! You might find that as you release the energy in your abs, they drop toward your spine, making you appear thinner.
  7. With gravity helping you to bring your abdominals closer to your spine (which is good), lightly activate your abdominal muscles. When you activate your abdominals, it should look quite similar to step 6 when you had no activation. That is an indication of how lightly you should activate those muscles.

Doing Ab Prep

  1. Make sure you have done the set-up outlined above.
  2. Find the light activation of the abdominals.
  3. Inhale in to the sides of the ribs and slightly tuck the chin. Think of anchoring your sacrum (tailbone) in the neutral position as the pelvis should not move in this exercise.
  4. Ab prepNow, imagine the top of your head, your neck, and your rib cage and the spine that is a part of the rib cage are all one solid piece. As you exhale, use your abdominals to tuck your bottom ribs in, lifting your head, cervical (neck), and thoracic (upper back) spine as one piece. As the shoulder blades are floating on the back of the rib cage, the arms will lift in relation to the spine hinging.
  5. Inhale in to the sides of your ribs.
  6. Exhale and lower to your neutral starting position.
  7. Practice, practice, practice! Make sure the collarbones stay broad to avoid neck and shoulder tension. Also, check that your are not pulling your head forward of the spine.

Variations of Ab Prep

Just like most exercises, there are different things you can do to make it more fun.

  • If you are worried that your head is coming up before the rest of your spine, lay on a towel. You want to be able to easily grab the top two corners of the towel with your hands, so adjust your towel accordingly. As you do your ab prep, think about letting your head fall in to the towel for support. This will help you disengage your neck muscles and find the abdominal muscles that should be working.
  • ab prep with arms liftedTo add challenge to ab prep, place your finger tips behind your ears or reach your arms on an angle toward your legs. This positioning should prevent accidentally pulling on the head to lift, and it should provide a greater challenge against gravity.
  • Another way to add challenge to ab prep is to hold at the top of your lifted position. For example, you have just exhaled in to your lift. Inhale in to the sides of your ribs, and as you exhale, think of softening the bottom ribs, hinging you a little higher. Again, inhale. As you exhale, lower or repeat softening the bottom ribs. It’s your call.

Ab Prep Video

Here is a video of me doing the exercise to help give you a visual.

What do you think: Crunches or Ab Prep? Let me know below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.