The sit up - or whatever we are going to call it - an oft talked about exercise and an exercise many love or hate....
The thing is with it - it's not a bad move, if you lie on the floor and get up; one possibility is that you do a sort of sit up. When you go forward in standing, 'leaning' towards the floor (a roll down in Pilates) - it's a standing sit up. You maybe sit all day in a flexed position, hunched over your desk..
Basically it's flexion of the cervical and thoracic spine- the problem is it is often done in a way that creates issues, makes the belly bulge and can put too much strain on the back....
So how do we do it optimally.??
Mr Stick Man and video show us the (a???) way but here's a bit of history behind it this way...
I learnt this deep neck muscle aka 'head lift' while doing the Kathy Grant Heritage training with Cara Reeser – and it was a bit of a OMG moment for me. Kathy Grant was a genius in movement and trained with / under Joseph Pilates himself. She had an ability to understand how to move well and I am so glad to have completed the training with Cara. Kathy realised that many of the Pilates moves were too hard when you first started, so she came up with her 'Before the 100s' - the head lift is part of that.
So how do you lift your head? You will have been told many things in the past, from tucking your chin in, doing a chin nod, lengthen the back of your neck and even keep the chin up and look at the ceiling all the time (ouch….).
Many people complain if neck strain when doing a 'sit up', my hope is that this way will stop that.
There might be some tissues that need releasing first to help you regain full range in the neck and upper back, a trainer can help with that - and please do expect there to be some feeling of effort in the neck area - after all it's picking your head up! I liken this to hold a bottle of wine in front of you with your arm straight, you'd expect your arm to ache right? Well that's like lifting your head up, something has to work to hold it there..
Lie on your back with legs bent – see stick man – be comfy you’re not doing a “sit up” yet; you’re only working your neck.
With one hand feel the shape of the bones under your neck (that is near to the floor) – they should go upwards to form an archway (like the lower back does as well when lying on the floor…). If they are flat see if you can change how your head is on the ground to create some neck space. This is the same shape you are meant to have when in standing – which unfortunately due to lifestyles is not often the case and you might need a pillow under your head (sorry but again a trainer will help with this).
You might be surprised how high you need to lift your chin to get this archway – your eyes will be looking directly up to the ceiling above your face – if you were standing you’d be looking long to the horizon line.
Now put one hand on your neck where your Adam’s Apple is (men obvious – women please imagine…) – and you’ll be feeling the cervical (neck) part of the spine – put your fingers either side of the bones you feel here. Put the other hand on your abdominal area just higher than your belly button.
LIFT your head off the floor by about 1mm – yup that little, that’s all – or take 2g of weight off the floor – it’s small…. If there was a mirror on the ceiling you would still have the same view of your face, it would just be 1mm closer and a piece of paper would just slip under your head. Under your fingers at your neck you will feel some little muscles activate – welcome to your deep neck flexors!!!
Once you’ve done the LIFT then do chin tucking to the chest - imagine a skewer being just behind the ears, that's the pole around which you turn your head. This should then take your head so you can see the horizon line and if a cup of tea (I'm British remember) was on your head it would be horizontal - i.e never spill the tea... Kathy Grant used various sized balls for people to squeeze as they 'tucked' the chin – it makes you go up and over and creates space as opposed to give yourself a double chin (not a good look).
That’s how to get the head off the floor ready for a ‘sit up’.
Did you feel your abdominal muscles go really tight as you picked your head up or maybe just flicker a little bit?
If you felt your core muscles pop up, you are trying to lift your head with your core – and that’s not it’s job is it?. This is a common pattern – when you lift your head, the rest of your body stays still – remember we’re not coming into a sit up we’re just lifting our head. In other words "Pick your head up with your head not your stomach..." which does make sense when you think about it. Try it again and see if you can use your neck muscles more than the core – be patient it might take time to get it.
If you can get this, your neck will get stronger in the right way – your head will feel lighter in your ‘sit ups’ and you’ll be able to access the core to do your "6-pack" work – without neck strain.
Try it this way and then try tucking the chin first and see what feels different, what way makes your head feel lighter and easier to hold up. Often doing it inefficiently helps us sense when we do it efficiently.
Then the curl up happens:
After the head lift then we can use the abdominals to flex the upper body into the curl we know and love (or not).
Now here's my thing - only come as high as you keep your pelvis still (neutral), at least for the purpose of this blog and ensure the deep abdominals are drawn in to the effort you need to do this. That requires another blog really, for now make sure you don't tuck your tail, jam the lower back into the floor or see your belly bulge - else you are working to create that shape, which is again not what we want....
There's a few more tips on the video, but I hope this helps those who struggle with neck issues when doing sit ups and the deep part applies whether you curl on the floor, on a BOSU, on a fitball - it's all the same movement pattern...
Please please please seek assistance if you have any back or neck issues.....