Pilates has been used for centuries as an exercise that can tone and strengthen your body, but can also help with posture, breathing, and overall body awareness. Many people avoid some of the more high-intensity programs for fitness, and Pilates has proved to be a tremendous opportunity to increase their fitness with minimal risk of injury. Cordillera Ranch Club trainer, Martha Miehe-Renard shows us a few of the key movements of Pilates for you to begin your workout at home. As always, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any workout program.
This exercise will wake up your oblique abdominal muscles and give you trunk stability.
Position: Face up on the mat with your legs extended and your hands on the bottom of your ribcage and fingertips approximately 2-3 inches apart. 8-10 Reps.
Feel how the front of the ribcage is naturally reaching for the ceiling and how the mid and low back arches away from the floor. Inhale and feel the fingers pull apart, exhale and feel your ribs draw nearer and the fingertips touch. Notice how the contraction of your oblique flattens the arch in the back and pulls your abdomen down toward the spine. Watch for shortening of the trunk. Avoid tilting your pelvis back and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Imagine your trunk as a straight tube.
This exercise strengthens the gluteus muscles and hamstrings and creates flexibility and mobility in the spine.
Position: Face up on the mat with your knees bent, arms by your side. 8-10 Reps.
Relax the neck, throat and shoulders. Inhale, for nothing and on the exhale and draw abdomen to spine and curl your tailbone under, reaching the pubic bone toward the ceiling. Take another full breath and slowly peel one vertebra off the floor one at a time until you can draw an imaginary line straight through your shoulders, hips and knees. Take 2 breaths to roll back down, one vertebra at a time. Watch for tension or pressure on your neck. Keep most of the weight on your feet and shoulders. Imagine your spine moving fluidly like a string of pearls.
This exercise will teach you correct form when executing an abdominal crunch and will wake up the deep abdominal muscles and neck flexors.
Position: Face up on the mat or on a towel, with your knees bent. 8-10 Reps.
Grab a hold of the corners of the mat or towel and lift your elbows to the ceiling to the point that you feel your head cradled and the strain taken off your neck. Your lower back is imprinted into the mat. Inhale, exhale half the air out, then bring the chin all the way to the chest and use your arms to lift your neck/head and shoulders off the mat until you feel just the tips of your shoulder blades on the mat. Notice your abdomen is pulled toward your spine. Inhale, exhale and roll back down keeping the chin on the chest all the way down. Watch for an excessively tilted pelvis. The Pelvis should be flat and the low back softly imprinted into the mat. Imagine you are pulling a T-shirt over your head when rolling back down.
The Swan is an extension (back bending) exercise. This one is good for the person with a stooped posture or for a person with excessive lumbar (low back) curve. The goal is to develop the upper back muscles and create better posture.
Position: Face down on the mat, tops of feet flat on the floor, palms by your chest close to your sides and forehead on the mat. 8-10 Reps.
Inhale, then exhale as you draw your shoulder blades down your back. Inhale again and exhale as you draw your abdomen to the spine and lift your nose and chest off the floor, leaving the bottom of your ribs touching the floor. No weight should be on your hands; very little tension should be in your low back and none in the tops of your shoulders and neck. Watch for overarching of the low back and over extension of your neck. Always engage the abdominals and slightly engage your buttocks. The back of your neck should stay long or slightly curved upward. Imagine someone is pushing down on your elbows as you lift your head and chest.
“Balancing Plank with Tapping”
This is a great exercise for balance, coordination and core strength.
Position: On your hands and knees. Put an extra pad under your knees if the surface is too hard.
Inhale and draw your abdomen toward your spine without arching. Inhale and exhale again as you reach your right leg straight out from your hip in a horizontal line. Take another breath and reach your left hand in front. Breathe and reach the hand and feet in opposite directions. Slowly move your right leg to the right and tap the floor, lift up and slowly move it to the left and tap the floor. Tap 6-8 times and switch. A modification is to omit the tapping and hold the plank for 10 seconds. Watch: Keep the abs and the buttocks muscles engaged the whole time. If you feel strain in your low back, lower your leg or engage abs and buttocks more. Imagine yourself as a flat table you could place bowls of water on, without spilling.
This works on rotating the trunk and spine and coordinating your breath.
Position: Sit on the mat, legs extended long and feet flexed, arms like a T. Sit on a pillow or a folded up mat if your hamstrings are too tight. Your low back should be flat, not rounded. 6-8 reps.
Inhale and lift up and out of your hips, exhale and rotate to the right 3 times. Each exhale should bring your trunk and arms further to the right. Inhale to return to center, and repeat the exhales on the left and return to center on inhale. Watch for involuntary lift of the shoulders. Try to engage your hip flexors and abdominal muscles to help you sit tall. Imagine the tips of your ears reaching for the ceiling.
This exercise is a great stretch of the obliques and other muscles of your front side and back. It’s also a great tension reliever and rib breathing exercise.
Position: Sit on the mat in a Z-sit position with the right foot in front of the body, the left to the side. Sit on a pillow or folded up mat if your hips are too tight. Both sits bones should be evenly planted on the mat. Place a hand on the floor on both sides of the body. 6-8 Reps.
Inhale and reach the right hand up over your head and stretch as you exhale. Take another full breath and return the hand. Repeat 6-8 times and switch your legs to the other side and lift your left arm. Watch for a shortening or collapse in the waist. Imagine you are toast inside of a toaster, bending straight to the side without getting burned on the nose or back of the head.
These are just a few of the basic exercises and stretches that can help your core stability and flexibility. To learn more about how Pilates can benefit your health and other training and exercises, email me at email@example.com.
by Martha Miehe-Renard
The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch Pilates Instructor