abdominal support and arabesque pain

[quote]Dear Deborah,
I have a 14 year old student who is having significant low-back problems. She cramps almost every time she does a port de bras back, arabesque, etc. She needs to do significant strengthening of her abdominal muscles, but each strengthening exercise causes her lower back to cramp. We have worked on lifting the pelvis and elongating the spine while dancing, and I have found that she can lie on her stomach and squeeze her navel into her spine. Beyond that, what are some safe, effective abdominal/low back strengthening exercises she can do? Thanks for your time and wisdom! I look forward to reading each of your blogs.
Thanks Again,
Elizabeth [/quote]


It is so challenging to help dancers learn good habits around using their core for support!  The abdominals are doing an eccentric contraction  in a port de bras back or arabesque – and that is one of the hardest to train for.  There are 3 types of contractions; a concentric contraction shortens the distance between the two ends of the muscle, an isometric contraction holds the muscle in a position, and an eccentric contraction is when the muscle is lengthening.  Eccentric contractions require strength and endurance and most of our abdominal exercises don’t train well for that type of contraction.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 9.12.24 AMI would suggest starting her in the quadruped position on her hands and knees, making sure she her spine is in neutral.

Her goal is to slowly and carefully peel one hand off the floor without shifting – let me repeat – without shifting.  It is harder than it seems.  Then repeat with lifting up the other hand and then she can move to slowing flexing one hip to lift the knee off the ground (will come slightly forward) and then the other leg.  Once she can do that without shifting and with no discomfort in her lower back she can try lifting opposite arm and leg at the same time.

If she is working correctly in the quadruped position she will feel the deep engagement of her abdominal (core) muscles.

I would then work with her in standing to bring this same patterning into her walking and standing alignment.  When working with a student in standing I will have them try different imagery until we find one that seems to work for them.  A popular one for my students is to imagine placing a hand on top of their head and elongating and reaching their spine up into their hand.  While the image isn’t focused directly on the abdominal region often it corrects their alignment and brings them into their full height.

Have them go back and forth between their new image and their more ‘normal’ way of walking and standing.  It doesn’t take very many times for them to feel the difference in their body – and that is the goal for me – to help them become more somatically aware of their own patterns in order to self correct.

After your student gets better with these patterns, then you could go to more normal abdominal strengthening.

To your success!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

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