Pilates is a graceful, mindful form of exercise that conditions even the deepest muscles in your body to perform optimally, improving posture, muscle tone and general body awareness. The mind to muscle connection is vital in Pilates, as one of the main aims of the movements are to sustain a constant body awareness, where each muscle is engaged in the correct way. This exercise has fantastic benefits for your body but also for your mind, as it helps you to practice being completely in the moment.
Through using mat based, bodyweight and gravity exercises and sometimes small, de-stabilising equipment, Pilates can improve core strength, flexibility and can improve chronic conditions such as back pain.
Classic Pilates classes are widely available, however it's also possible to get started in the comfort of your own home. All you need is a mat!
Here are 12 Classic Pilates Moves You Should Try Now
A simple exercise to prepare you for some more challenging Pilates moves, focusing on your breath can help you to mentally prepare for your workout, as it dispels any stress from the day and brings your awareness to your body before you start to move. Stand on your mat with your feet hip-width apart, close your eyes if you like, and start to bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four and breathe out through your mouth for a count of four. The focus is on expanding the lungs, without raising the shoulders, then emptying them as much as possible, getting rid of any stagnant air. As you breathe out, pull your belly-button to your spine to tighten your abdominal muscles.
Shrug it Off
A good exercise to follow your breathing practice is shoulder shrugs. Stay in the same position, but as you inhale, lift your shoulders to your ears, contracting your upper body muscles. As you breathe out release all of the tension in your muscles and let your shoulders drop back into place with a hard out breath. Repeat five times. This exercise will help to release any built up tension in the upper body after a long day at work.
A last warm up move is the roll down. Activating the muscles in your spine and starting to work on your balance, this is a great way to stretch out first thing in the morning or before a challenging routine. Stand in a neutral position, feet hip-width apart on your mat and breathe in. As you breathe out, slowly tuck your chin into your neck as you slowly begin to roll down the muscles in your neck, then upper back, then lower back. Every vertebrae should move one after the other. Be sure to keep hips in a neutral position, don't sway backwards as your body folds over. Come to a completely folded position with knees active and slightly bent if needed. Touch the floor if possible. As you breathe in, reverse the movement, coming to a standing position.
Engaging your core and pelvic muscles, this move will perform an opposite back bend to work your hamstrings and butt. Lie on your mat, with legs bent and feet placed hip-width apart so your thighs and pointing towards to ceiling. Arms down by your sides. Back in a neutral position. Breathe in, and as you breathe out pull your belly button to your spine, gently begin to tip your pelvis back, lift your tail bone and then use your thigh and buttocks to lift one vertebrae at a time off the floor until you reach the bottom of your shoulder blades. Hold it for one breathe, pushing hips towards the ceiling, then reverse the movement to come back to starting position.
The opposite of a hip thrust, place yourself on all fours on the mat, with hands shoulder width apart and knees hip width apart with an even weight distribution. Breathe in, breathe out and tuck your tail bone down, tilt your pelvis and slowly arch each of your vertebrae one at a time until you have created a complete curve in your back, tuck your head down to complete the curve. Breathe in and lift your head and tail bone simultaneously, straightening your back until you come back to starting position.
Staying in the same starting position as for hip thrusts, stabilise your position by engaging pelvic and abdominal muscles around a neutral spine. When you are ready lift one leg so the toes are pointed towards the ceiling. Keep core muscles engaged while you slowly start to circle the leg. It should be a small movement with the only thing moving being the leg. Hips stay stable throughout. Circle one way, then the other, then swap legs.
Walk the Plank
To begin really focusing on the abs, come to a neutral standing position on your mat. Breathe in, breathe out and perform a roll down, then walk your hands down your mat in the minimum possible amount of movements until you are in a plank position with hands below shoulders, back straight and toes below ankles. Hold for 2 breaths. Reverse the movement and come back to starting position. The focus should be on using the minimum amount of movements possible and focusing on keeping the hips stable, not swaying.
Plank Plank Plank
For those who love torture, here's another variation on the plank. Start on all fours. As you breathe out, slide one leg out behind you and then the other until you are in a plank position. Rock forwards and backwards using your toes in this position without losing your stance. To increase the difficulty, lift on foot just off the floor while your rock, then swap to the other foot.
If you're planked out and want a lie down, try some swimmers. Lie face down with nose to mat, neck long and arms flat out on the floor above your head just slightly more than shoulder width apart with your legs mirroring them. Pull belly-button to spine to engage muscles and protect your lower back, keep your tail bone heavy. While maintaining a long neck line and straight spine, start to lift your chest while keeping your shoulder blades grounded. Practice this movement a few times. Then when lifted, start to lift alternate limbs just off the floor and hold: right arm, left leg then left, right leg.
Bingo-Wings Be Gone
This movement is similar to swimmers but bring arms down by your sides and legs together with toes touching but heels apart. As you lift your chest, squeeze heels together and lift arms up behind you. Hold the position and pulse arms inwards for a count of 8. You should feel this working your triceps.
Glutes are a huge muscle that are often neglected when it comes to stretching. Perform a simple glute and lower back stretch by lying on your back, bringing your knees to your chest and wrapping your arms around them. Slowly begin rocking from side to side.
All in the Hips
A hip stretch to release lower body tension. Lie on your back, legs bent with feet planted hip width apart. Lift one foot and place the heel of that foot on the knee of the bent leg. Reach your arms around the bent knee and gently pull towards your chest. You should feel a stretch in the hips and glutes of your crossed leg. Repeat on the opposite side.