Pilates Neutral versus Imprint: what is the difference?

How to find your Neutral position

Juliette S Pilates - ab prep - Photo by Nina Harwick

The STOTT Pilates Ab Prep is done in neutral. Photo by Nina Harwick

Those of you who have been to my classes already know it, the best way to find your neutral pelvis position is to:

1- Relax into the floor with your feet, tailbone, ribcage and head heavy on the mat with a slight lowering of the chin towards the chest.

2- Put your hands on your belly, with the tips of your fingers on your pubic bone and the heels of your hands on your hip bones. The triangle you form with your hands should be parallel to the mat and you should be able to place a glass of water on it if you wanted to…

3- Check that your lower back is not pressed against the mat but rather resting just off the mat.

Once you have been through these 3 steps you should have a nice neutral spine, where the 3 natural curves of the spine in the neck (cervical), the middle of the back (thoracic) and the lower back (lumbar) are present and in good alignment.

What happens when we work in neutral

The trick now is to maintain this neutral position as we do our set of Pilates exercises – and there are many Mat Pilates exercises that are done in neutral. There is a very good reason for this: with these exercises we want to focus on engaging the transversus abdominis, or side/transverse abdominal muscles. These are the muscles that hold your lower torso and pelvis correctly aligned and strong. They are like a corset around your lower back and waist, holding your ribcage in place and ¬†making sure that you don’t arch or flatten your lower back.

These muscles are extremely important. But for a lot of people, they are difficult to feel and contract properly, as they are so underdeveloped. This is why we talk a lot about them in a typical Pilates class and why we work a lot in neutral…

How to find your imprint

The other pelvis position that it is crucial to understand to perform Pilates correctly is the imprint position. To place your pelvis and lower spine into imprint you need to:

1- Relax into the floor with a neutral spine, feet, tailbone, ribcage and head heavy on the mat.

2- Start by pulling your pelvic floor muscles in and up: these are the muscles that connect your sitting bones, tailbone and pubic bone. They are like a hammock deep inside your pelvis, so imagine you are shortening and pulling them up.

3- Then imagine you have to put on a really tight pair of jeans and you need to pull your belly in to make it fit in them…

4- Now visualise your lower back flattening against the mat as your belly scoops and your pelvis tilts. Your legs stay relaxed.

Once you have done this you should be in imprint!

What happens when we work in imprint

As you go into imprint you should feel the abdominals along the midline of your body contract: I usually say to imagine your are “zipping them up from your pubic bone up until your belly button”. These abs are called the rectus abdominis and they are long, straight fibers or muscles going between your lower belly and your ribs.

In imprint, you will also engage another layer of abdominals called the oblique abdominals, which have fibers running diagonally between your hips and your ribcage.

All this means that in imprint, you have a much stronger abdominal contraction that will allow you to go into more challenging positions, like lying down on your back with your legs up in table top (90 degree angle in the knees) for example. So you will notice that in beginner or intermediate classes, I always remind you to go into imprint before you lift your legs up to table top. Imprint is a much safer position for the lower back when legs are up off the floor.

As you get stronger, you will start being able to perform exercises usually done in imprint with a neutral pelvis position instead. But for this, you need to strengthen your three layers of abdominal muscles and understand the exercises pretty well… So, you know what you need to do now: join a class, get onto your mat and practice! To find out more about my group classes please take a look at my website or get in touch!