The Swan Dive strengthens the muscles of the back and stretches the hip flexors. This is an intermediate/advanced exercise performed on the Pilates Ladder Barrel. A SAC Certified Pilates Instructor should assist with this exercise.
Lie prone (on stomach) with upper body draped over the barrel. Arms are long. Knees are bent. The balls of the feet are on 1 rung and the heels on the rung above; heels together toes apart. (V position)
- Inhale, keep heels together; lift upper body off barrel, forming 1 long line from feet to head (dart position); reach arms long, palms down. Legs will straighten.
- Exhale, lift upper body even more– reaching chest and arms up toward the ceiling forming an arc. Bend knees, keep thighs pressing against barrel. Arms open slightly; turning palms to face each other.
- Inhale, straighten legs, lowering and lengthening the upper body to the dart position, reaching arms long— continuing the long line, palms turn down.
- Exhale, bend knees, and lower body to starting position.
- Complete 3 sets.
Come to the longest line possible in dart position before lifting upper body into extension.
Engaging abs is critical in order to protect the back and achieve the arc shape.
Bending knees is important to avoid overextension of the lower back.
Lengthen out to the dart position only, return to the starting position.
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Ashley started Pilates mat classes about 5 years ago at the Seattle Athletic Club. She was in physical therapy for hip problems and her therapist recommended starting Pilates for core stability. It helped her enough that she was able to stop doing PT.
During her first pregnancy three years ago her doctor was uncomfortable with stressing her abs while pregnant so she stopped at about 3 months and ended up with hip problems during her pregnancy. During delivery she pushed for 2 1/2 hours and her doctor was really close to moving towards a c-section as they were hitting 24 hours of labor. Luckily, she was able to convince them to let her go a little while longer and was able to delivery naturally.
When Ashley got pregnant again 2 years later, she did her research on Pilates and pregnancy. She found information both on-line and on a Pilates videotape. Plus, she talked with me about the modifications necessary for her pregnant self.
She went to her same doctor armed with information and was able to get her comfortable that she could continue Pilates with the modifications. Ashley stacked 5 Yoga blankets behind her back and used this as support during the stomach series, the roll-ups, & neck pulls. Since she was unable to do any exercises on her stomach, I suggested some alternate exercises she could do to keep moving. During rolling exercises she practiced balance instead of rolling. Once she reached her 3rd trimester I made sure that she was only lifting one foot off the ground at a time during any exercise.
By doing Pilates during her pregnancy (up until 3 weeks before delivery), she avoided the hip problems she encountered with her first pregnancy. While most of her labor was similar with her second child (totaling 22 hours!), the major difference was that she pushed for just 12 minutes – 3 pushes total. Her doctor was amazed.
Ashley says, “Since labor requires you to be in a curled up position (just like Pilates), I believe that all the Pilates exercises combined with a deep concentration on pushing were the key to my easy delivery. I owe a big thanks to Jocelyn for all her support and creativity during my pregnancy. She was incredibly helpful along with members of my Monday night class who were always checking up on me.”
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Purpose: This is an advanced mat exercise. It builds strength in your abdominal muscles and stretches the muscles of your back and shoulders.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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Purpose: Pliates Push-up concentrates on the shoulders, chest, arms and upper back. The exercise also stretches hamstrings and challenges abdominals.
- Stand tall with your heels against the back edge of the matt; toes turn out in the Pilates V.
- Keep hips over heels as you; inhale; pull your navel into your spine and roll your torso down toward mat. Place hands on mat slightly more than shoulder width apart. (Knees can be slightly bent.)
- Exhale; walk your hands out onto the mat until your palms are beneath your shoulders and heels over your toes. Your body will be in a Push-up position (or Plank) — a straight line from head to ankles.
- Perform 3 Push-Ups (bend and straighten arms) with elbows close to the sides of the body. To come out of the Push-Up, fold up in half, bring your chest toward your legs; press your palms and heels into the mat. Pull your navel in and give yourself a gentle stretch.
- Inhale, walk your hands back toward your feet; try to keep your legs straight.
- Exhale; roll your body back up to a standing position.
- Work up to 3 sets of 3 Push-Ups.
For an advanced challenge, perform the entire Push-Up sequence while balancing on one leg. The same steps apply for the Single Leg Push-Up, but remember to keep your leg lifted throughout the entire exercise. Don’t forget to repeat the exercise on the other leg!
Checklist: In the Plank-body should be in one line, eyes to floor; long neck, hands under shoulders, firm buttocks, heels over toes.
Maintain a firm center, with navel into spine. Don’t allow your middle to drop; that places too much weight on your shoulders.
In the Push Up- elbows into ribs, hips in line with body and legs pressed together.
Note: Omit this exercise if you have a bad wrist or shoulder.
Modification: Bend both knees and kneel on the mat.
Visualization: Imagine the body as a strong, sold bridge or ramp that will not budge under weight.
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Purpose: To massage the spinal muscles, work the powerhouse and test balance and coordination. It is often done at or near the end of a mat routine.
- Sit at the front of your mat with your knees bent to your chest and heels together. Open your knees to shoulder width. Hands reaching through the legs to hold outside of ankles.
- Tip back and balance on your tailbone. Bring your feet just above the mat. Keep the knees within your frame; scoop the navel deeper.
- Inhale, roll back, pulling your feet with you. Balance on the base of the shoulder blades. Allow your legs to extend slightly until your feet are over your head- (head stays on mat). Clap the heels 3 times (like a seal clapping its’ flippers).
- Exhale as you roll forward to the starting position, tucking your chin into your chest. Balance and clap the heels together 3 times. Your heels should not touch the mat.
- Repeat 5-8 times; feeling the massage up and down the muscles of your back.
- 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.
- Avoid hunching shoulders and tilting head back.
- 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 injury. Proceed with caution if you have a delicate wrist or elbow.
Modification: You can begin without the claps and successively add 1,2, then 3 clapls 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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Most women wonder if Pilates is recommended during a pregnancy, and fortunately the answer in most situations is yes! Pilates is a great way to tone abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, which can support an ever-changing pregnant body. Also, Pilates is very adaptable. Most Pilates exercises can be modified as your body and abilities change. The modifications keep the original goal of the exercise, while altering the form to work for your body. Exercise during pregnancy may support an easier labor, a speedy recovery postpartum, a quicker return to your pre-pregnancy weight, not to mention a comfortable pregnancy.
Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few basic guidelines to follow before you jump right in.
First, and most importantly, if you have never done Pilates before and just found out you are pregnant; this is not the time to start. Wait until the birth, and then find a qualified Pilates instructor to lead you through the exercises. Generally this will be about four to six weeks postpartum for a vaginal birth and six to eight weeks for a surgical birth.
Second, as with any exercise routine, check with your doctor. Inquire about your limitations during pregnancy, especially during unique circumstances.
Third, exercise moderately. Most experts recommend not letting your heart rate get above 140 beats per minute. If you do not own a heart rate monitor, use the “talk test”. If you are too winded to talk in a normal fashion, it is time to slow down. Other signs that you need to take a break are dizziness, feeling faint, and nausea. Headache, shortness of breath, a racing heart, uterine contractions, and bleeding or leaking fluid are also signs to stop and see your physician.
Fourth, do not over stretch. Hormones, like relaxin, soften the ligaments in your body to allow your joints to spread for the birth of your baby. Consequently, women do experience more strains in their bodies during this time. You will want to be sure not to overstretch. Working in a smaller range of motion, avoiding bouncing exercises, and strengthening the muscles around your hips and spine will help you avoid the pain of strains.
Fifth, stay off your back. In the second trimester it is time to stop doing exercises while lying flat on your back. Your uterus has grown out of your pelvis and can press down on the major vein in your torso. This reduces the amount of oxygenated blood flow to your baby, and causes most women to be dizzy or light-headed.
All in all, pregnancy could be a very rewarding time to tune inward and connect with the principles of Pilates: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow. Consistently working with these philosophies may enhance your workout experience and offer skills to bring to the birth and care of your baby.
If you are an expecting mother and would like to begin a Pilates program during your pregnancy, please contact Danielle.
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Purpose: To stretch the lower back and hamstrings; develop spinal articulation and improve control of the abdominal muscles.
Note: if you have a bad neck or lower back, leave this exercise out.
- Lie on the mat with arms by your sides; palms down. Lift both legs to a 60 degree angle from the mat.
- Inhale, lift the legs to a 90-degree angle. Initiate from the abdominals; bring your legs over your head peeling your spine off the mat. Keep reaching the arms long, shoulders pinned down. Don’t press onto your neck.
- Exhale and open your legs just past shoulder width and flex your feet. Keep the back of your neck long, avoid any tensing or crunching in the front of the neck. The arms continue to press into the mat. Your body weight should rest squarely in between your shoulder blades.
- Begin rolling back toward the mat, feel your spine stretching longer and longer as you articulate down until the tailbone touches the mat.
- When the tailbone reaches the mat, take the legs to just below 90 degrees and squeeze your legs together again. Repeat the sequence.
- Complete 3 repetitions with legs together when lifting and 3 times with legs apart.
Head to Toe Checklist:
- Keep your upper body glued to the mat- avoid rolling onto the neck.
- Don’t use momentum to roll over; use abdominals.
- Feet should not collapse on the floor on the roll over.
- Palms press into mat, arms long throughout.
- Shoulders are stable on the roll down.
Visualization: Imagine your arms are lead bars pinning you to the mat.
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Why is Pilates good for back pain? For anyone suffering from general backache to acute pain, Pilates can carry an important role in relieving pain in your back.
I think of Pilates as intelligent, corrective exercise. Pilates exercises your body as well as your mind. It can change the shape of your body. You may not even realize some of the ways you may be moving that are causing stress on your spine. Pilates specifically focuses on and addresses the intrinsic issues that can lead to back pain including poor posture resulting in asymmetry of the muscles, lack of core strength and inflexibility. Pilates teaches you to become more aware of your body and helps to break the bad habits that are contributing to back pain.
Proper alignment of the spine is crucial to back health; when alignment is off, uneven pressure on the spine results. Strengthening weak areas in the body is a major component to good posture. If you sit with your shoulders rounding forward, or tend to stand leaning into one hip, your posture is suffering and you are causing unnecessary strain to your spine and hips. A good Pilates instructor alerts you to these imbalances and then creates a program focused on creating symmetry in your body, allowing you to move more efficiently.
Another primary cause of low back pain is lack of strength in the inner abdominal muscles. This weakness causes the lower back to sway forward and tightens the muscles that cause pain. A good Pilates program focuses on strengthening the “core” muscles that support the spine. Strengthening the “core” goes beyond the outer abdominal muscles. The “core” consists of the inner abdominal muscles that create a flat stomach and hug and protect the spine. Creating this “inner” strength is crucial to back health.
Flexibility also contributes greatly to how your back feels. Your spine carries the ability to twist, move from side to side, and bend forward and backward. When you develop core strength you have the support to build flexibility in your torso, your hip flexors, and your hamstrings (back of legs) safely without putting strain on the spine.
One great aspect about Pilates is that you can work at your own pace with your instructor to increase strength, flexibility and alignment. Working towards these goals of symmetrical alignment, strengthening your core, and creating flexibility in your body can help you live a pain free life.
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It’s important to do your research when seeking out a Pilates instructor, but how do you know which Pilates instructor is best for you? Here are 8 simple questions to ask when searching for a Pilates instructor.
1. Are you a certified instructor?
Unfortunately for you, the consumer, an instructor can get “certified” by any variety of “Pilates” instruction. Therefore, you need to ask some follow-up questions.
2. What training program did you complete?
Your instructor should be certified through one of the Pilates master teachers (a person directly taught by Joseph Pilates). Some names you should listen for are: Romana Kryzanowska, Ron Fletcher, Lolita San Miguel, Mary Bowen, and Kathy Grant.
3. How many hours did your certification process require?
Your instructor should have at least 600 hours of apprenticeship, where he/she spent time observing, assisting, teaching student clients under supervision, and then instructing solo. Several written and practical exams are required for the trainees to become certified.
4. Are you current with your continuing education requirements?
Make sure he/she is current on their continuing education requirements, usually meeting a required number of hours in a workshop every year.
5. How many years have you been an instructor?
Look for an instructor who has at least 2 years of teaching experience.
6. What is your exercise philosophy or specialty?
This can vary greatly, so look for an instructor who meets your needs.
7. What is your experience with injuries?
A Pilates instructor should know about any condition that you may want to discuss and how to work with it, including musculo-skeletal conditions and auto-immune disorders.
8. Are you qualified to teach on all pieces of Pilates equipment?
Some certified Pilates instructors are trained only on certain pieces of equipment. However, an effective Pilates instructor should know how to safely use every piece of equipment so that he/she can assess and deliver the exercise that will benefit you the most.
Fortunately here at the Seattle Athletic Club, all of our Pilates Instructors meet or exceed those standards. However, we all have different styles, so please feel free to engage us in conversation about Pilates. We love to share our passion!
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