Tag: pilates studio

Pilates Exercise of the Month: The Seal

Purpose: To massage the spinal muscles, work the powerhouse; test balance and coordination. It is often done at or near the end of a mat routine.

  1. Sit at the front of your mat with knees bent to your chest and heels together. Open your knees to shoulder width. Reach your hands through your legs to hold outside of your ankles.
  2. Tip back and balance on your tailbone. Bring your feet just above the mat. Keep your knees within your frame; scoop your navel deeper in toward your spine.
  3. Inhale and roll back while pulling your feet with you. Balance on the base of your shoulder blades. Allow your legs to extend slightly until your feet are over your head- (head stays on mat carefully). Clap your heels 3 times (like a seal clapping its’ flippers).
  4. Exhale as you roll forward to the starting position, tucking your chin into your chest. Balance and clap the heels together 3 times. Your toes should not touch the mat.
  5. Repeat 5-8 times; feeling the massage up and down the muscles of your back.

Checklist:

  • Maintain a constant C curve of the spine
  • Never roll onto your head, neck or shoulders…only the base of the shoulder blade.
  • Initiate rolling back from the powerhouse not from the head.
  • Don’t use momentum when rolling up. Roll up slightly slower than you rolled back to challenge the abs.

Note: Omit this exercise if you have an acute back or neck injury.

Modification: You can begin without the claps and successively add 1,2, then 3 claps as balance improves.

Visualization: Imagine you are on a rocker, balancing on the edges of both the front and back, trying not to tip over in either direction.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Swimming


Purpose: This advanced exercise lengthens the stomach muscles while strengthening the back muscles.

  1. Lie on your stomach, arms extend overhead, palms down. Squeeze the backs of legs together, slightly turn feet outward.
  2. Inhale, pulling navel up into your spine, lift your head; then your right arm and left leg off the mat. Switch arms and legs by lifting your left arm and right leg. Without shifting your body weight; flutter the arms and legs in a swimming motion.
  3. Inhale for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts. Feel that you are stretching in opposition, fingers and toes reaching for opposite ends of the room; keep arms and legs as straight as possible without letting them touch the mat.
  4. Complete 3-5 sets of 5 inhalations/exhalations each. To end and stretch your lower back, sit back on your heels in child’s pose.
  5. As you improve, speed up swimming action of arms and legs; 2 movements per count. This challenges coordination or torso stability.

Checklist:
Hold your gaze high without crunching the back of the neck.
Work arms directly in front of you and in line with your shoulders.
The legs should flutter close to each other and in line with your torso.
Swim briskly; avoid rocking from side to side.

Note: A shoulder injury may be aggravated by this exercise. Reduce range of motion of the arms. Any lower back issues, approach exercise carefully.

Visualization: Move rapidly and keep your head up as though you were actually in water. Envision your legs working as if using a kickboard in a swimming pool.

Pilates Exercise of the Month – Shoulder Bridge

Purpose: To work the powerhouse and strengthen the back of the legs (hamstrings).

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, hip width apart, both feet firmly planted on the mat; arms by your sides, palms down.
  2. Squeeze your bottom and raise your hips off the mat. The hips, knees and feet are in perfect alignment.
  3. Inhale, pull your navel to spine, and lift one leg out long in front of you. Then, extend it up to the ceiling, pointing toes. Exhale, flex your foot and lower your leg to your knee. (You may lower the leg further as long as the hips stay level and leg does not drop to the mat).
  4. Repeat 3-5 kicks on each side, Inhaling as you lift leg to ceiling and point toe, exhaling as you flex foot and lower leg. To finish, place foot on the mat and repeat kicking sequence with other leg.
  5. When finished slowly roll your back down to the mat.

Visualization: Imagine you are suspended from the ceiling by a sling around your hips, keeping you lifted.

Head to Toe Checklist:

  • Stay lifted in the hips throughout the exercise by pressing into the standing leg to maintain balance and control.
  • Kick swiftly, but not forcefully. The motion should not alter your hip height.
  • Stretch the leg away from the body as it lowers.
  • Navel should be pressed in and buttocks squeezed tight.

Note:
Use discretion if you have difficulty bearing weight on your shoulders.

Modifications:

  • Lift and lower only the hips off mat.
  • Lift and lower one leg at a time, as if you were marching in place, hips remain still and lifted throughout.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Criss-Cross or Obliques

Purpose: The last of the Stomach Series, this works the external obliques, waistline and powerhouse.

  1. Lie on your back with hands behind your lifted head; elbows wide and your knees bent into your chest.
  2. Extend your right leg out long; hovering above the mat. Twist your upper body until the right elbow touches left knee. Open the back (left) elbow behind you. Inhale as you lift to twist and hold for 3 counts.
  3. Exhale and switch sides, bringing your left elbow to your right knee while extending the opposite (left) leg out in front of you. Hold for 3 counts. Keep your upper back and shoulders off the mat as you twist from side to side.

Complete 8-10 times. To end bring both knees into chest.

Checklist: Lift and twist from your waist, not from your neck and shoulders. The back elbow never touches the mat. Look at your back elbow as you twist.

Anchor your center to the mat so you don’t roll from side to side. Lower your extended leg about 45 degrees or more… back should not arch off mat.

Note: Avoid twisting exercises such as this if you have suffered a recent back injury.

Visualization: Imagine you have an X on your stomach and you are crossing to each end of the X.

Debunking Pilates Myths

It’s expensive
A one-on-one session is a great way to start your Pilates training, but when you learn your routine, you can work out with a partner or small group to cut costs.

It’s only for women
Joseph Pilates was a man, and he created a system of exercise meant for every body, male or female. Pilates requires concentration, focus, coordination and agility.

It’s repetitive
Pilates builds a foundation of core strength, and that requires some deep, precise, consistent work. Only after your core is established and muscles correctly firing can you move on to the more complicated, advanced Pilates exercises. So yes, Pilates can seem repetitive in the beginning. But be patient! Your repertoire will expand as you become stronger and are able to demonstrate control in your body.

It’s only for dancers
Joseph Pilates was not a dancer; he was a boxer and wrestler, studied yoga and gymnastics. When Joseph and his wife Clara set up shop in New York City, George Balanchine sent many dancers to Pilates to rehabilitate their ballet injuries. The news of a workout that promoted strength with stretch spread quickly through the dance community, and has been popular ever since. However, Pilates is beneficial for all populations.

It’s easy
Pilates can be modified to accommodate nearly any injury, but true Pilates, once the basic concepts are understood, is challenging to the most fit person.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Double Straight Leg Stretch

Purpose: The fourth exercise in the Stomach Series targets the powerhouse to the extreme.

  1. Lie on your back with hands behind your lifted head; one on top of the other, (not interlaced). Elbows wide.
  2. Extend your legs straight to the ceiling, heels together and toes turned out slightly, squeeze inner thighs, sink navel toward spine.
  3. Inhale and lower your straight legs down toward the mat for 3 counts. Stop if you feel your lower back begin to arch.
  4. Exhale as you raise your straight legs toward the ceiling. Don’t allow the legs to pass 90 degrees; the tailbone does not leave the mat.

Complete 8-10 times. To end bring both knees into chest.

Checklist:

  • Remain perfectly still in your torso.
  • Engage the glutes and inner thighs to support and protect your back.
  • If your back arches off the mat as you lower your legs, you are taking them too low. Bring shoulders away from ears.

Note: If you have a delicate back, place your hands in a V position just below your tailbone (palms down) and leave your head down.

Visualization: Imagine your legs are attached to springs above your head. You must stretch the springs on the way down and resist their pull on the way up.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Single Straight Leg Stretch or Scissors

Purpose: The third exercise in the Stomach Series is also known as Scissors. It provides additional stretch in the back of legs while working the abdominals. This exercise requires you to move quickly and with control.

  1. Lie on your back and hug both knees into your chest, head and shoulders curled off the
    mat, elbows lifted.
  2. Extend your right leg straight up to the ceiling and grab your ankle with both hands. Stretch
    the left leg long in front of you so it hovers slightly above the mat.
  3. Inhale, keeping the right leg straight and use your hands to lightly pulse the leg twice. Sink
    the navel deeper into the mat beneath you as the leg nears the body.
  4. Exhale and quickly switch the straight legs by “scissoring” them past each other. Grab the
    ankle of your left leg and repeat the motion, inhaling for one set and exhaling for one set.

Complete 8-10 sets; alternating legs. To end, bring both legs together at a 90 degrees.

Goal: Remain perfectly still in your torso as you stretch and scissor your legs. Keep eyes focused on belly, making sure it’s scooped. Avoid hunching your shoulders.

Note: If you can’t hold your ankle, simply adjust your hand placement; try your calf first or move your hands to the back of your thigh. Don’t hold behind your knee. If you develop neck pain while holding your head up, rest it on the mat.

Visualization: As you begin switching legs, imagine pulsing your legs in rhythm with your heartbeat.

Pilates Exercise of the Month: The Jack Knife

Purpose: This is an advanced mat exercise. It builds strength in your abdominal muscles and stretches the muscles of your back and shoulders.

  1. Lie on the mat with arms long by your sides; palms down. Lift both legs to a 60 degree angle from the mat, keep a slight turn out in your legs.
  2. Inhale, lift the legs to a 90-degree angle, arms continue to reach long, shoulders pinned down. Use your abdominals to roll over- bring your legs over your head and peel your spine off the mat. Your legs remain together and go no lower than parallel to the floor. The weight is on your shoulders, not neck.
  3. Exhale, raise your straight legs upward toward the ceiling, using the strength of your buttocks to support your position. At the peak of the exercise, your feet should be over your eyes. Neck is long; arms continue to press firmly into the mat.
  4. Inhale, start to roll down vertebra by vertebra, slowly resisting gravity. Exhale, to finish, bring the body down to 90 degrees and return legs to starting position. Repeat 3 times.

Checklist:

  • Anchor the back of the head, shoulders, and palms solidly into the mat.
  • Distribute your weight between the shoulders – not on the neck.
  • During Step 2, aim the toes for the wall behind you and don’t allow your legs to separate throughout.
  • Keep squeezing the back of the upper inner thighs and buttocks to support your lower back.
  • On the decent, keep the feet over eyes.

Note: Omit this exercise if you have a bad neck, shoulder, or back.

Visualization: In Step 3, raise your legs to the ceiling, as if opening a Swiss Army knife and snapping it into place.