What is Pilates?
There are 34 original Pilates exercises, created by Joseph Pilates during world war one. The exercises we learn in class are modifications of those 34 exercises, made a little easier so that they are suitable for everyone. In a ‘beginners to improvers’ class you will start with the basics at Level I and with practice, will build up your skill and strength to progress to Level II and III. In an intermediate class we progress at a quicker pace, building on the basics and progressing the moves even more.
Click here for a full biography of Joseph Pilates.
If you’ve never done Pilates before, a private pilates class with me is the ideal way to learn the fundamentals before you start mat classes. Not compulsory, but if you would like more information about this option, please click here
Let’s get started ….
Where are my ‘core’ muscles?
There are six basic starting positions in pilates. Standing, sitting, lying on your back, lying on your front, kneeling on all fours and lying on your side. Your instructor will teach you how to find the correct alignment in each, so that you can keep your spine in a neutral alignment as you exercise. You will learn to use your core stability muscles to keep your spine in this neutral alignment whilst you challenge it by moving your limbs. A good analogy would be to imagine that the trunk of your body is like the trunk of a tree which remains still and stable in the wind. Your limbs are like the branches of the tree. It doesn’t matter how strong the wind is, the trunk remains still, whilst the branches move.
So that you can familiarise yourself with the basics, it might be helpful to watch the video. Have a little practice beforehand if you would like to – but dont worry, we’ll go over everything again in class.
© Thanks to Claire and Belinda at Pilates Training Solutions
So, to recap…
There are 6 basic principles to bear in mind whilst doing Pilates.
In Pilates, the breathing pattern is used to provide a rhythm for the movements and can affect the quality of posture. It helps to focus awareness into the body and helps with concentration. As a general rule, we breathe in to prepare for an exercise, breathe out to move, and breathe in to come back to the starting position. For all positions Pilates involves lateral or thoracic breathing. That is, we try to breathe into the sides and into the back of the ribcage whilst keeping the front of our ribcage knitted together. This helps to aid core contraction.
Have a go !
- Imagine that the lungs are like a pair of bellows which expand out to the sides and concentrate the breath into the bellows. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Imagine that you are blowing out through a wide straw. We don’t breath particularly deeply, but wide, and into the sides and back of the rib cage. If you belly-breathe, it is likely that you will lose your core contraction. Keep the abdomen flat and your shoulders relaxed, back and down.
- You can check whether you are breathing correctly by placing your hands around your rib cage with your finger tips just touching. If you are breathing correctly your fingers should move apart and together as you breathe. You could also place one hand on your tummy and keep it still whilst the rib cage is moving.
- When exercising, never hold your breath
- Breathe fully and naturally and without force
- Your breath starts each movement. A natural breathing pattern will help you to improve the rhythm of the exercise as well as focusing your mind-to-body awareness.
2. Engaging the core – Sometimes called ‘centering’
In Pilates we are strengthening the Transversus Abdominis muscle (TA, or ‘core’). A muscle which is a very deep muscle and it runs around the trunk, rather like a corset. You can find this muscle by placing your first two fingers on your lower abdomen, a couple of inches in from the hip bones, and a couple of inches down towards the pubic bone. When the core is contracting you should feel a tightening in this area. Engaging the core will also engage your pelvic floor and vice versa as the two muscles co-contract so Pilates exercises are also excellent for strengthening this area, especially post pregnancy. All exercises are performed with the core muscles engaged.
Practice contracting your core using ‘the belt’ method:
- Imagine that you are wearing a hipster belt with ten holes. The tenth hole is the tightest the belt can be pulled in.
- Now breathe in, and tighten the belt up to the tenth hole, as tight as tight can be. Hold and breathe. On your next outbreath, let everything go.
- Then breathe in, and pull the belt in to the fifth hole, (50% contraction), hold and breathe. On the next outbreath let everything go.
- Now, breathe in, and pull the belt in to the third hole, (30% contraction), hold and breathe. Keep holding and keep breathing. This 30% contraction is the level of tightening that you need to maintain from the start of the first exercise repetition to the end of each exercise.
Practice contracting your core using ‘the pelvic floor lift’ method:
Another way of ‘engaging’ your core is to pull up with your pelvic floor. The easiest way to do this is to imagine that you are going to the loo and stopping the flow of urine mid-stream.
- Don’t pull in too hard as it is important that you don’t ‘grip’
- Make sure that your bottom muscles remain relaxed
- Keep your chest open and avoid any tension in your neck
- Keep your breathing smooth and free. If you are still able to expand your rib cage on an in-breath then you can be sure that you haven’t over-engaged your core
- If you find it too difficult while you are learning, then just concentrate on scooping your belly button back towards your spine or pulling up with your pelvic floor.
- Don’t worry – it will all come with practice.
3. Control – Pilates exercises require that you ‘switch off’ the big muscles in your limbs which are often over-used at the expense of your core muscles and start to use many of the muscles which are often under-used. This can seem strange at first as we are so used to using these ‘global muscles’ to move with.
4. Flow – All exercises should be performed with an even flow so that there is no strain on the joints.
5. Concentration – To perform each exercise it is essential that the mind controls the body and that you can fully concentrate on each move.
6. Precision – Take your time and slow down – Mastering one precise movement will make sure that the exercise gives you the maximum benefit, rather than doing many imprecise movements.
- If the instructor asks you to do something which you suspect might exacerbate an existing condition – DON’T DO IT 🙂
- Dont do anything if it hurts. (Mild discomfort is fine)
- Dont worry about what other people are doing around you. Stay at your own level, work at your own pace.
- Ask for help if you need it.
Pilates Solihull and Pilates Coventry.
Pilates Solihull Pilates Solihull
Balsall Common, Hampton in Arden, Dorridge, Knowle, Barston, Meriden, Shirley, Marston Green. Pilates classes in Solihull.
Pilates classes in Coventry and Kenilworth – Balsall Common, Burton Green, Tile Hill, Kenilworth.