When Joseph Pilates developed his exercise system known as "Contrology," he was trying to strengthen his chronically ill and weak body. Over the years, he taught his exercises to other German citizens at an internment camp in England. After immigrating to the United States, he opened his own gym where he taught his exercises, including the Teaser. Dancers flocked to Pilates' gym, and now his exercises, which are performed on mats and various pieces of equipment such as the Reformer, have become common in gyms worldwide.
In the Teaser, you lie on your back and contract your deep abdominal muscles. You stretch your arms over your head and bring your legs to tabletop position, with your shins parallel to the floor like a table. As you exhale, you roll your head, neck and back off the floor, one vertebra at a time, while you simultaneously straighten your legs. After arriving in a V-sit position -- with your legs and upper body making the shape of the letter V and your arms stretched parallel to your legs -- you inhale and hold the position. On an exhale, you slowly roll back down to the starting position, aiming to place one vertebra at a time back on the floor.
In the Teaser, you build mobility and flexibility in your spine when you work on rolling up and down one vertebra at a time. Because you have to balance in a V position, you can also improve your balance with this exercise. This traditional Pilates exercise also strengthens your hip flexors and abdominal muscles. In fact, the Teaser is much more effective than traditional crunches at targeting your external obliques and rectus abdominis.
Although the Teaser does not at first glance seem like a difficult exercise, it is in fact advanced. You must pay close attention to your form in this exercise to prevent injury. If your stomach muscles are not strong enough to keep your pelvis from tipping forward, you place a lot of pressure on the disks in your lower back. While doing this exercise, be sure to keep your abdominal muscles engaged and stop the exercise if you experience any pain in your back.
If you are not quite ready for the advanced version of the Teaser, a number of easier variations can help you build up the necessary muscles gradually and safely. First, you can practice balancing on your butt, first with your knees bent and then with your legs straight. Next, you can lie on your back with your toes pointed toward the ceiling. Keeping your lower back pressed into the floor, drop your legs about six inches and then bring them back to the starting position. This variation requires you to use your abdominal muscles to stabilize your spine while you use your hip flexors to lift your legs. Don't let your lower back lose contact with the floor as you lower your legs. Finally, you can do the Teaser with bent knees to work on the coordination of the abdominal muscles and hip flexors, without overly stressing your lower back.
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