Pilates is a practice of movements that increases your awareness, strengthens and lengthens the entire body, and improves posture. Pilates can decrease or rehab injuries and can help with everyday challenges such as slipping on ice or carrying heavy bags of groceries, or even caring for our children and families.
The muscles that surround our pelvis are there to keep us upright. In today’s world, more and more people are living sedentary lifestyles. We are working at desks all day, using cars as our main mode of transportation, and spending hours in front of the computer or TV. In turn, our supporting muscles aren’t being used which eventually results in muscle atrophy. Pilates purposefully targets and strengthens these muscles which not only prevents injury but also makes exercise more effective.
The Transversus Abdominis (TA) is the deepest layer of core muscle that runs from the pubic bone to the upper rib cage and is attached to the spine. Picture a cylinder of muscle around the torso that is stable at the bottom and flexible on top to flex, rotate and side bend.
There are three key reasons why we should not only care about the TA, but should make it our top priority.
1. Strengthening the TA results in a flat, elongated appearance of the abdominal area.
2. A strong TA maintains better lumbo-pelvic control which improves alignment.
3. A trained TA increases stability in the low back region, preventing injury as we increase the intensity of our workouts or as we age.
Pilates is the harmonized actions of lengthening bulky muscles and strengthening under utilized muscles in the body that will produce a balance in muscle tone, and give you the long and lean look of a dancer with the strength of a body builder.
Pilates combines breath with movement. Each exercise is coupled with movement of breath. For example, exhaling corresponds to “knitting” or contracting the abdominal muscles while inhaling corresponds to widening the ribs and filling the lungs with air. My newest cue that really helps people understand the Pilates breathing is to inhale like you are smelling roses and exhale while you like you are blowing out birthday candles.
When we connect breath to movement, we create a clear pathway for our minds to connect to our muscles. The stronger the bond between the mind and the body, the better your alignment and technique, which is key to getting results. Conscious breath and movement create a meditative quality to the body, which can help to quiet the mind and reduces stress.
Symmetry is an important part of the human form. When one part of our body is misaligned, another part of our body will compensate by overworking. Eventually, these actions will result in asymmetry in our muscles and joints and this leads to injury. Pilates will help you realign your muscles and bones by correcting misalignments with mindful movements
To recap, Pilates can correct unhealthy posture not only by increasing body awareness but also by strengthening the muscles in the back that are often ignored. Poor posture is a direct result of work, lifestyle, or exercising incorrectly. It can lead to back pain, chronic injury and even sleep loss. Pain inhibits movement and progress in all aspects of life.
Try this routine before any major strength or cardio workout. You can do this workout daily to strengthen the core.
1. Breathing 2-4x
Lie flat on the floor with knees bent, feet 12-18 inches away from the buttocks. Inhale through the nose and expand the rib cage 3 dimensionally, especially laterally (smell roses). Exhale through pursed lips, like blowing out birthday candles or blowing out all the 3 dimensional air out of the torso while maintaining a neutral lumbar spine.
**Great exercise to practice before bed to naturally promote relaxation and get the body ready for sleep**
2. Toe Taps 4-8x each side
Lie flat on your back and rock the pelvis into an imprint (bringing the hip bones closer to the ribs) and bring legs into table top. Alternate “heel’ (deeper connection) taps to the floor while maintaining the imprint and abdominal connection.
3. Hip Rolls 4-8x
Lie on their back, feet hip width distance apart in the same position as Breathing. Inhale to prepare, on an exhale gently roll into an imprinted spine and articulate the spine of the mat starting from the sacrum up. Inhale to stay at the top and exhale to sequentially roll the spine back down returning the pelvis to neutral.
4. Alternate Leg Marches 4-8x each side
Stabilize in Bridge Position and alternate bringing on leg and then the other into table top.
5. Breast Stroke Preparation 4-8x
a. Lie prone on the mat with elbows by the body (waist) fingertips forward of the shoulders. Inhale prepare and exhale lightly press into the forearms and fingertips, making sure the use the upper back muscles extend the back. Inhale to hold the extension, exhale to lower back down to the mat.
b. Lie prone on the mat with arms down by the side. Draw shoulders back in line with the ears and hover the upper body including the arms off the mat.
c. Lie prone on the mat with both hands fingertips in front of the eyebrows, legs together or hip width distance apart and toes on the ground. Inhale to prepare, exhale to knit the ribs and hover (bare lift) the upper body including the arms off the mat. While doing this make sure to engage belly button inward and upward and keeps toes on the floor.
6. Shell stretch
Press back into the commonly known child’s pose position except they will keep more of a rounded shape in their back and abs like being rounded over a beach ball. Inhale to prepare and exhale to pull your abdominals in toward their back and focus on stretching the back muscles.
Enjoy your new Core Foundation!