Ahh, chest lifts. They’re often the most misunderstood exercise whether you’re a Pilates die-hard of a fan of a sweat session at the gym.
Over-exertion (the go hard and fast approach) and incorrect muscle recruitment patterns can mean the difference between a successful chest lift and one that causes injury and strain in the neck and spine.
One of the secrets to a successful chest lift is to maintain neutral -- you know, neutral? That position we’ve been banging on about forever now. With your hands clasped together behind your head and your thumbs running down your neck, your hands act as a hammock for your head but also help to carry the load of your head. By keeping your head heavy in your hands and your eye-line reaching up and out past your knees, you’ll protect your neck and avoid unnecessary strain.
The goal of a chest lift is to work your rectus and transverse abdominis and your external and internal obliques, basically the stomach muscles that sit between your chest and hips -- your spine and neck especially shouldn’t be compromised during a chest lift.
As you begin to exhale, while maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis, draw your belly button towards your spine and lift your head and shoulders off the mat, using your hands to cradle and carry your head up. Keep your chin the same distance from your chest (as it was when you were laying down) and focus on drawing your bottom ribs towards your hips. Imagine your ribs are sliding down as opposed to your trunk folding in half as you chest lift. The folding action is a common mistake that is often made when clients lose focus on their neutral spine (see? We told you neutral was important).
Forget what you once thought. Chest lifts don’t require the height you thought, sure your head and shoulders move off the mat, but for the best results and stronger abs think of drawing your abdominals down. It’s a sure fire way to get the ab burn everyone at Pilates is always talking about.