Have you ever had a client constantly complaining about their ribs hurting on the long box? One easy work-around I commonly see is placing a pad under their ribs to soften the surface. But adding the pad under the ribs typically doesn’t address the underlying problem. Nine times out of ten, correcting the form and cueing to the essence of the exercise will do more to alleviate the discomfort.
Part of the issue could be that they are just not used to feeling pressure on the ribs. It’s easier in a private session to determine that, however, because you have time to suss out whether it is a new feeling or actual pain.
After determining that a client’s discomfort is not a result of unaccustomed sensations, I try looking for and cue the following:
1. Activate the Abdominals
Often clients are just hanging over the box, allowing their ribs to painfully sink into the edge of the box. As we know, the abdominals attach to the bottom ribs so if the abdominals are not active, the ribs will sink. Cue your client to use the abdominals to connect the ribs and the hips, creating a neutral lumbar and lower thoracic spinal position. Images I use are:
“Imagine you have a blueberry under your navel and you’re trying not to squish it”
“Feel like you have suspenders from your ribs to your hips. Don’t let the suspenders lengthen in the front.”
2. Pad Under the ASIS
First double check that the pelvis is neutral. Try a pad if the hips are slightly flexed, the ASIS does not touch the box, or the individual has large quadriceps.
If the pelvis is not neutral, lying in more of an anterior pelvic tilt, the rest of the spine responds to it by extending where it shouldn’t, causing the front ribs to shift forward into the box. Using the pad under the ASIS not only allows the pubic bone to press into the box, but brings the lumbar and the lower thoracic spine into a more lengthened position. This spreads the weight out more evenly, takes pressure out of the lower back, creates space for the abdominals to activate efficiently, and alleviates the ribs.
Remember, always place the pad under the ASIS but not under the public bone.
3. Activate the Hip Extensors
If the legs are drooping way down below the box, cue the client to activate their hip extensors. Some cues I use for this are:
“Legs are straight like an arrow”
“Connect the muscles of the back of legs up into the back of your pelvis”
“Like the stripe up the back of old fashioned stockings”
A trick to help the client self correct this in a group class is to put the footbar up to position #2 and tell them, “If you feel the footbar, you need to engage the back of your legs more.” Or add a fitness circle between the ankles to help connect into the legs.
If the client feels their lower back when they activate their legs, reduce the weight of the lever of the legs. You can do this by bending the knees. You may even have them slightly separate their knees and cross their ankles to allow the pubic bone to more easily descend into the box.
4. Use the Arc Barrel for Kyphosis
If you have a client that’s kyphotic, their upper abdominal fibers might be so tight that they feel a lot of discomfort there, and padding will just exacerbate the alignment issue. Often on the arc barrel, someone with kyphosis is much more successful and able to access the correct muscles. If you’re modifying for clients in a group class, set up the arc barrel on a mat on the floor and have them work their spinal extension from there.
I recommend you workshop the exercise to get a sense of what the client is feeling. Get out the box, the pad, the circle, heck, all your props and see what seems to work for you. Perhaps you will find a solution that will also work for your client.
Remember, any time you have a client who complains about pain or discomfort from an exercise, it’s an opportunity for you to learn and grow as a teacher.