Pilates is widely known as a great system of exercise to strengthen the core and prevent injury, but it can also be an intense and challenging workout that will enhance your fitness and leave you feeling toned, invigorated and balanced. Pilates is wonderful for your posture, will tone your muscles, flatten your stomach and give you amazing core strength. Pilates expert Caroline Sandry talks us through the basics.
Top tips to get you started
Here are some key points which will help you to get the most out of your Pilates:
Discover your ‘powerhouse’. This is often referred to as your core and consists of the muscles of the abdominals, back, hips and buttocks. When performing exercises, try to initiate all movement form your core.
In Pilates we want to engage the deepest abdominal muscles (the transversus abdominis or TA). Have you ever laughed so hard that you could feel your tummy working? Say hello to your TA! Another easy way to feel these muscles in action is to stand up tall and place your hand across your tummy and blow hard expelling all of the air out of your body.
You will feel your abs flatten and harden to help push the air out. This is your transversus abdominis (TA). You can also cough and feel the same muscles. We want to use these muscles to help stabilise our spine and pelvis, so try to get into the habit of exhaling through the mouth on the effort part of each exercise as you simultaneously draw your tummy button in. Because you have your abs nice and tight, you will need to breathe sideways into your ribs whilst exercising.
You might have heard of ‘Zipping-up’ with Pilates. This refers to squeezing or engaging your pelvic floor muscles (another important area of the core). These muscles are like a sling, holding your inside organs in! If you have ever had a baby then you will know exactly where they are, as they are often weakened by childbirth which can cause issues such as urinary incontinence. To engage these muscles try to zip up, lift or squeeze your internal muscles (as if trying to stop yourself from going to the loo!). Once you have located the muscles, try to tighten your corset and then zip up your pelvic floor to exercise.
Whether standing, kneeling on all fours for an exercise or just sitting at your desk, you should try to keep a neutral spine. This means your spine should neither be very arched (sticking your bottom out) nor flattened, but somewhere in between. This is your ‘neutral spine’ and you should aim to keep this position whilst performing most of your Pilates exercises. Stand sideways on to a mirror and tip your pelvis back and forth to find your neutral spine. Once you have the right posture, tighten your corset, and see how much slimmer you look than if you relax your abs and let your bottom poke out!
Your shoulders are an important part of Pilates and you will see great improvement in their position: throughout your Pilates exercises, keep your shoulder blades drawn gently down and towards the middle of your spine – as if you are sliding them down into a pocket in the middle of your trousers. This will help to correct round shoulders and help your body to use the correct muscle patterns.
Ready to go!
Now that you understand the key points you are ready to get started in Pilates. There are many classes available, either using equipment in a specially equipped Pilates studio, or using small equipment on the mat (which is usually a cheaper but just as effective). Try to make sure that group classes have a maximum of 12 participants. Less is better as your teacher will be able to see your body and help to correct you. You should aim to practice Pilates at least twice per week for best results.
Top 5 Pilates buys
We asked the experts at Yogamatters.com to share with us their top five buys for anyone interested in discovering Pilates.
Pilates core fitness mat (£30)
Soft and comfortable 10mm mat which rolls for easy transport and storage.
Resistance ring (£22)
Beat those problem areas with this lightweight ring and tone up the legs, upper arms and pelvic floor muscles.
Anti-burst swiss ball (£15)
This burst resistant swiss ball is perfect for an all over body pilates workout and also great as a chair to aid ostural problems.
Foam roller (£15)
Use for muscle and ITB release on the legs, as well as core exercises.
Asquith longer length cami (£35)
This range has a wonderful selection of Yoga and Pilates clothing made from soft, organic cotton.
Why you should do Pilates whatever your chosen sport
Pilates is a form of exercise that ultimately helps to balance out many more traditional forms of cardiovascular exercise, says Glenn Withers, Co-Founder of the APPI Health Group (www.appihealthgroup.com). In any fitness programme, Pilates should play a part. Whilst cardio work is vital to get you aerobically fit, pilates will ensure you have good muscle balance, core strength and stability, which is vital in many sports.
Here are the benefits:
Strengthens the quadriceps and gluteals, while improving balance and control.
Stretches and strengthens the hip muscles to allow for a longer stride, increasing pace and preventing injuries.
Stretches out the lower back and front of hip, while regaining the balance from the over worked quadriceps due to the cycling position.
Strengthens the vital shoulder blade muscles, and abdominals, allowing the swimmer to achieve a better water position and prevent shoulder injuries, mainly impingement.
The principles of pilates
Concentration – key to connecting mind and body
Relaxation – working without undue tension
Coordination – being aware of what your body is actually doing
Breathing – deep thoracic (rib) breathing
Centering – initiating movements from the ‘powerhouse’ or centre
Flowing movements – movements should be graceful and fluid
Control – each movement is performed in a slow controlled manner
Precision – each movement has a purpose
Ten Pilates – London: www.tenpilates.com
Jump Physio – Manchester: www.jumpphysio.com
Fantini Pilates – Glasgow: www.fantinipilates.com
Pilates Moves – Bristol: www.pilatesmoves.co.uk
Caroline Sandry has also produced an at home DVD to allow you to fit your exercise around your busy life.
Visit www.carolinesandry.com for more information.