This exercise is the most important technique in Pilates that you can learn, in our opinion. I wouldn’t call it difficult, but it can be tricky to get the hang of it at first – it’s a bit like learning to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time – but once you get it, you will never forget how to do it.
There is very little point in doing any Pilates exercises without Zipping and Hollowing as your midsection and back won’t be braced, the exercise won’t work as it should and you may even pull a muscle. So practise Zip & Hollow until it becomes second nature to you; the best thing about it is that you can practise anywhere and at any time, and no-one else will notice a thing. It’s not called The Hidden Secret of Pilates for nothing ?.
“Zip & Hollow” is simply the term we use in class when we want everyone to engage their deep abdominal muscles and pull up on their pelvic floor. Other Pilates instructors use different terms; one instructor I knew would shout out “Brace yourselves, Ladies!”, but our classes would keel over laughing if Bob came out with that one ?.
Doing a Zip and Hollow stabilises your trunk internally, bracing your midsection for the exercise you are about to perform. The actual muscle set-up is fairly complex, but the effect is like tightening a corset.
Here are the instructions for Zip and Hollow in Standing: -
Start by finding Neutral spine in Standing and make sure your neck and shoulders are relaxed. We’ll begin with the Zip.
Pull up between your legs, as if you’re trying to stop yourself going to the toilet. This is the pelvic floor that’s moving. Pull up a few times as far as you can, then halfway up, then a third of the way up. If you feel hardly any movement DON’T WORRY. Takes a bit of practice…even if the muscle just twitches at first, it means you’ve given it a wake-up call! Relax the rest of the body and don’t forget to breathe…the crazy thing here is if you tense up and try too hard, you won’t get anywhere. Close your eyes and let the Force flow through you. ?
As you do this, you’ll probably feel your deep tummy muscles contract a bit and your lower back tense slightly. This is GOOD…it means your deep core muscles (called your Transversis Abdominis or TVA has switched on. The TVA is a sheet of muscle that runs around your midsection; another name for it is “Nature’s Corset”.
Now we’ll do the Hollow.
Imagine that you’re wearing a pair of jeans, and they’ve suddenly got too tight, so you have to pull your bellybutton backwards away from the waistband. Practice pulling it back as far as you can towards your spine, then halfway, then a third of the way – just like your pelvic floor. You will feel your abdominal muscles flatten slightly. Keep the contraction low down – if you suck in the muscles directly below your rib-cage, you won’t be able to breathe easily as they are the wrong muscles!
Now try doing the two actions together….pull your pelvic floor up a third of the way, and at the same time pull your bellybutton back a third of the way towards your spine – and there’s your Zip and Hollow
Now do the two together and breathe at the same time! This may seem like one too many things to do at this stage, but persevere. Remember learning to drive? How impossible it seemed to change gear, indicate and look in your mirror all at the same time, while not stalling the engine at those uphill traffic lights? (I go into a cold sweat just thinking about that one!). But after you’d been driving for a while, it all became second nature and you could do it subconsciously and hardly think about it. Your Zip and Hollow will become like that. I promise
The most important one is to remember to breathe normally and not tense up and clench your jaw. When you first practise pulling up on the pelvic floor and pulling the belly-button backwards, it’s almost impossible not to raise the shoulders and hold your breath! Perform the Zip and Hollow and then deliberately drop your shoulder-blades down your back – which will relax your upper shoulders and neck.
These deep muscles in your core are not meant to fire all the time, so practise pulling up and in and then letting go whenever you can. Your body will soon start to respond.
See the video for the verbal instructions.