Are You Engaging Your Abs or Your Butt?

In almost every exercise it is easy for another part of the body to take over and do the work of the muscles we are targeting.  This is particularly true when we do a pelvic tilt or rock from imprint (basically a flat lower back) to neutral (the natural curve in your low back).  Often instead of initiating imprint using the abdominals, people will squeeze the butt.  It gets the job done, but you then you miss all that wonderful ab work.  The glutes are a major mover and a big muscle.  They can create an imprinted position when called upon to engage that way.  But if you want to strengthen and improve control of your abdominals, particularly to counteract back pain and help protect the back when moving, you need to make the glutes quiet down and learn to fire the abs.  So how can you tell if you are engaging your abs or your butt?

What Do You Feel?

Start by just stopping to notice what you feel.  Is your butt squeezing when you imprint?  Do you feel like your legs are involved by sort of pushing into the floor?  Do you even feel the abs doing the work?  If you feel nothing in the abs, they probably aren’t involved.  Although sometimes, we just aren’t sure what we feel. That’s okay. Still, start there.  If the answer is you don’t know, that is still an answer.   Next step is to try to figure that out.

Use A Visual

Try lying down in front of a mirror.  What do you see?  When you rock to imprint is your butt clenching?  Is the move big and jarring?  When it comes from the abdominals, the movement will be subtle.  You can also watch me do a pelvic tilt in the video below.  It’s a little dark, but you can still see the difference when I clench my glutes.



Supporting the legs will often make it easier to do a pelvic tilt from the abs.

Depending on what is happening in your body, getting the abs to move the pelvis can be tricky.  The butt or tight hip flexors can be getting in the way.  Try placing your feet on a wall with the knees and hips at 90-degrees and doing the same move.  You might find it easier to move from the abs.  Or trying laying your legs completely over a large stability ball so the weight of the legs are fully supported.  If you don’t have a ball, you can use a couple pillows under your knees.  If either helps, start to memorize what you feel the abs doing and attempt to recreate it with the feet on the floor.  It might not happen right away with your feet on the floor.  But now as least you can feel what it feels like to move from the abs.

The Final Test

As seen in the video above, to make sure your abs are doing the work, try to do a pelvic tilt with the legs in the air unsupported.  If there is any pain or strain in the back, stop immediately.  You may not be ready for this version yet.  You can try one leg in the air and one on the floor.  Either way, the movement will be very small.  In this position it should feel like a lot of ab work to keep the legs in the air, but still.  The legs will want to move with you, try and resist that.

The Rest of Life

Once you have found the movement and it is coming from the abs, play with it everywhere in different positions.  Try to do a pelvic tilt from the abs standing or sitting.  Try it laying with your back over a stability ball.

Read More:

Once you know how to do a pelvic tilt from the abs, learn to “knit the ribs.”

For Eight Easy Exercises You Can do, click here.

Learn to breath and engage you abs at the same time.


About the Author:

Maggie Downie
Thank you for giving your time to stop and read my blog. I hope it encourages you to keep moving. Move and the body will be happier. And when you're moving you can hike, run, swim in Jell-O, race over non-Newtonian fluids, travel the world or build igloos--if that's your thing. If not, you can watch me do it. This is just a spot to try and feel good about life.

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