If there’s one exercise that will make you feel like you’re working your way to a flatter tummy it’s this one depicted below.
Now, depending on whether you are a Pilates woman or a yoga queen you will refer to these, respectively, as Pelvic Curls, or Bridge Pose.
If you’re one neither of those things, it’s basically the move that means you curl yourself up (vertebrae by vertebrae as my Pilates instructor used to say over and over and over again) to a position where your bottom and lower back are off the floor…..at the same time of doing this you’re pulling your navel to your spine/pulling up your pelvic floor muscles and this leads to a flatter tummy.
The reason I like it is that I can actually feel my stomach flattening as I do it – and I find the position strangely soothing to be in.
The reason I don’t like it is, that, invariably about two seconds into performing the pose for the second time in my routine, my left hamstring will cramp.
It will cramp in a way that triggers me to shout (internally) words of four letters that must be written to include at least one asterisk in polite society.
It will also cause me to plummet to the mat grasping said hamstring, which will then hurt for the rest of my workout.
Obviously, this is not the desired effect. Cue quick email request asking for friendly Pilates teachers to solve my problem.
Why Do Hamstrings Cramp in Bridge Pose
The answer, according to London based teacher and author of numerous books Caron Bosler, is very simple
‘You’ve got weak hamstrings,’ she told me. ‘As well as toning your stomach, this move also strengthens your hamstrings – but if yours are weak and you’re going all the way into a full bridge you will get problems.’
How to Stop It Happening
The good news is, there is a solution. The muscle your trying to target with this move is the transverse abdominis (or abdominus depending on your spelling preference) – which is deep inside the abdomen and is the one that pulls in your poochy bit. ‘But you don’t need to go into a full bridge to hit this, just curl your tailbone up about two inches,’ says Caron.
So I tried it, and she’s right – I still get the tummy flattening feel, but no agonising cramping. Excellent, consider the move adjusted.
Of course, a longer-term solution would be to strengthen your hamstrings which, eventually should allow you to progress to full bridge pose.
Now, for those not up on their muscle anatomy – the hamstrings are the large muscles that run up the back of your thighs – and it turns out that our sedentary lifestyles are extremely good at making them weak. Sitting for long periods at work also causes the muscles to shorten and tighten which can also aggravate things in positions like bridge pose where the muscles need to extend.
The modified bridges Carolyn suggests are a good place to start, but you might also want to try donkey kicks where you kneel on all fours, bend one leg so your foot points towards the ceiling and kick upwards.
Another good move is single leg deadlifts where you hold two dumbells in each hand, hands in front of you. Bend forward from the waist so the dumbells go toward the floor and as you go forward, lift one leg out straight behind you. Repeat on both sides. Try it without dumbells at first to get the hang of it.
If you’re at the gym, moves including the hamstring curl and the leg press will work the muscle in question (click here for our post on top tips for using the leg press).
So, there you have it.