As Pilates instructors, we are continually cueing breath, rib cage connection, and drawing the belly button to the spine. We understand the importance of engaging the transverse abdominis (TVA) with every fiber of our being. We try to find a million ways to enlighten our clients of that rooted importance through visual, verbal, and tactile cues. Despite “Pilates,” being synonymous with “transverse engagement,” it is also synonymous with “mind-body connection.” If only we could get our clients to feel the subtle difference while getting real-time visual feedback at the exact moment, we provide verbal cueing!
Alas, there is a way!
My clients have a love-hate relationship with the Chattanooga Stabilizer Pressure Biofeedback unit, but it is because it works, and they know it!
First, what is this Biofeedback Measurer?
The STABILIZER, designed by physiotherapists, is a simple device that registers changing pressure in an air-filled pressure cell. Doing this allows body movement, especially spinal movement, to be detected during exercise. The unit consists of a combined gauge and an inflation bulb connected to a pressure cell. The unit monitors the position of the low back to ensure quality and precision in exercise performance and testing by providing real-time feedback to the instructor and client when the abdominal and back muscles are not actively or effectively protecting the spine.
How do you set the base measurement?
The air cushion slides under the lumbar spine and legs are brought to a perfect tabletop. Without tucking the pelvis or letting the knees come into the chest, have your client perform a Pilates exhale and pump the gauge to 40. Test and retest to eliminate any variables and ensure your client is deeply engaged while maintaining the needle at 40. Do a few focused breaths to feel the connection and start your routine with footwork!
How do you cue them to understand what they see on the gauge?
This will be an eye-opening experience for your clients. One that often leads to excitement, frustration, and self-doubt. Keep it positive. Keep them moving. Keep them focused. It may take them some time to relearn proper proprioceptive and kinesthetic placement to avoid the fluctuations in the needle. Your cues can help get them there faster!
For example, in footwork, if the needle spikes as they press the carriage out, it likely means they tucked their pelvis and lost neutral spine, placing more pressure into the unit, causing the needle to spike. If it drops below 40, it usually indicates a lack of TVA connection sometimes visibly notable with back extension or flaring of the rib cage often on inhales, toe taps, or more extended lever exercises. This tool is excellent for supine, prone, side-lying, and wall supported exercise along with cervical stabilization if placed under the neck.
Let’s be honest; WE know what a “40” looks like without this tool, but does your client? Do they stay 100% connected during medial rotation footwork when their quads are burning from baby pulses when they are on their last two reps of double leg stretch or performing swimming on the long box? We can correct lumbopelvic placement and TVA engagement all day, but are they aware that even though their abs “feel” like they are as engaged as rep 1, that fatigue has set in. They are only 70% connected by rep 10. Like most props, I implement this tool into clients’ routines to increase mindful awareness and foster efficient and correct biomechanics. Give it a try and let me know what you think!