Pilates 101

Author: Lizzy Caldwell

There is no substitute for learning first hand from a good Pilates Instructor one to one or attending a high quality class. The beauty of Pilates is in its subtly and having someone to correct you can make a huge difference to your whole Pilates journey. A tiny reposition here, or a focus there can dramatically change the impact of the exercise.

However, life is busy and it’s not always practical to get along to a studio. So here are a few very basic beginners exercises you can try to ‘evoke’ your core – I promise you it is there somewhere!

Perform these exercises on a thick exercise mat for 1 minute each. If you have any pain whilst exercising seek professional advice.

Pilates Rest position:

In the rest position your muscles are relaxed and your joints are in neutral alignment. You should try to incorporate the key points of the rest position into all postures throughout your day.
Lie on your back with your knees bent up and you head supported on a small cushion or folded towel
Relax the weight of your head into the support
Lengthen the back of the neck by reaching the crown of the head towards the wall behind you
Gently draw your shoulder blades down towards your waist to relax the neck and shoulders
Soften the ribcage into the mat to connect the back of the ribcage on the mat
Place your feet and knees hip distance apart

5 key elements
1: BREATHING

Lie in the rest position.
Place your hands across the lower half of your ribcage with the tips of your fingers slightly interlaced. Breathe in and allow your ribs to expand widthways. Let your fingertips draw apart from one another slightly. Breathe out and allow your ribcage to sink inwards and downwards. Your fingertips may interlace slightly as you empty your lungs. You can repeat this in standing or sitting to truly understand your Pilates Breathing.

2: CENTRING
Lie in the rest position.
FINDING NEUTRAL SPINE POSITION.
Imagine your pelvis is a bucket of water. Tip it backwards to spill some water out the back of the bucket and you will feel your back gently flatten onto the mat. Now tip it forwards to spill some water out of the front of the bucket and you will feel your lower back arch slightly. Find your ‘neutral spine’ position by resting the bucket halfway between these two movements. There should be a small space between your back and the mat, and your pubic and hip bones should form a small flat triangle

SETTING YOUR CENTRE WITH ABDOMINALS MUSCLES.

Feel your deep abdominal muscles by placing your fingertips on your hip bones and then sliding your fingertips in and down. Now imagine your muscles forming a natural corset, criss-crossing the torso in layers. There are 10 notches in this corset, below the belly button, just like a belt. Breathe in to prepare, breathe out all the way and before the next breath in slowly and gently draw in the muscular corset from below the belly button onto the third notch. You should feel the muscles under your fingertips subtly draw away. Hold your centre and keep breathing normally. Less is better – the contraction is very gentle so don’t overdo it.

SETTING YOUR CENTRE WITH PELVIC FLOOR MUSCLES.
Gently draw your pelvic floor muscles in and up to hold your bladder from emptying. Now breathe normally and try to keep that engagement in your pelvic floor muscles

3: RIB CAGE PLACEMENT

Lie in the rest position, with your arms resting long beside your body. Find your neutral spine position and set your centre.
Breathe in to prepare. Breathe out and lift your arms slowly overhead as far as you can while keeping the back of your ribcage on the mat underneath you. Breathe in and lift your arms, bringing your hands over your shoulders (vertical). Repeat several times, without flaring your ribcage off the mat.

4: SHOULDER BLADE PLACEMENT

Lie in the rest position.
a: Keeping your arms long, float them upward vertically to the ceiling. Imagine you are holding a helium balloon between your hands. Breathe in and reach upwards through your fingertips, allowing the helium balloon to lift your arms further upwards and glide your shoulder blades gently apart from one another. Breath out and gently draw your shoulder blades back towards one another without pinching them together. Repeat several more times and then lower your arms to the mat.

b: With your arms resting long beside your body, breathe in and glide your shoulder blades gently upwards, keeping your arms on the mat. Breathe out and gently glide your shoulder blades down away from your ears. Repeat several times.

5: HEAD & NECK PLACEMENT

If you have neck pain or headaches always commence this exercise lying down to reduce the load through your neck.

Lie in the rest position. Place a shiny magazine on top of the towel to reduce friction. Feel the bony area on the back of your head resting on the magazine. Now lengthen this bony part of your head away from the base of your neck. Hold for a second or two and then relax. Repeat several times. Alternatively, imagine that someone is gently pulling the hair on the crown of your head to lengthen the back of your neck.

Less is better – the contraction is very gentle so don’t over do it. Place your hands on the muscles on the front of your neck. The muscles should remain soft.

BEGINNERS EXERCISES
1: ONE LEG STRETCH LEVEL 1

Start Position:
Lie in the Pilates Rest Position. Centre Engaged
Action:
INHALE to prepare.
EXHALE, slide your left heel forwards along the floor.
INHALE, slide your left heel back along the floor.
Repeat alternating legs.

2: HIP TWIST LEVEL 1

Start Position:
Lie in the Pilates Rest Position. Centre Engaged.

Action:
INHALE to prepare.
EXHALE, fold your left leg outwards from your body.
INHALE, fold your left leg back inwards until your left knee is in line with the left hip.
Repeat alternating legs.

3: SCISSORS LEVEL 1

Start Position:
Lie in the Pilates Rest Position. Centre Engaged.

Action:
INHALE to prepare.
EXHALE, slide your right foot inwards towards your sitting bone and float this leg into tabletop
INHALE and hold the tabletop position.
EXHALE, lower your right leg to the mat.

Repeat alternating legs.

4: SHOULDER BRIDGE

*PLEASE NOTE SHOULDER BRIDGE IS NOT SUITABLE IF YOU HAVE OSTEOPOROSIS**

Start Position:
Lie in the Pilates Rest Position. Centre Engaged.

Action:
INHALE to prepare.

EXHALE, gently roll your lower back into mat, scoop your tailbone upwards and continue to peel your spine off the mat, bone by bone until you are resting on your shoulder blades.

INHALE and hold the shoulder bridge position.

EXHALE, lower the shoulder bridge by lowering one bone at a time to the mat, beginning with the highest vertebrae of your bridge and finishing with your tailbone to return to neutral position.

So give these a go at home. Try to be as precise as possible – if it’s easy it’s probably not Pilates! Or better still pop along to a class or book a one to one session. Your body will thank you for it! At North Coast Pilates & Physiotherapy all of our instructors are Chartered Physiotherapists as well as APPI Pilates Instructors so you will be in the safest of hands.

Get in touch.