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Transform Your Body Through Pilates

Written by: Heather Mims PT, DPT, PMA®-CPT 

Physical Therapist and PMA® Certified Pilates Teacher

Joseph Pilates once said that with Pilates exercises, “you will feel better in 10 sessions, look better in 20 sessions, and have a completely new body in 30 sessions.”  But many people find that with a good Pilates instructor, their body already looks and feels taller, leaner, and more streamlined after only a handful of sessions. So how could visible change take place so quickly?  The answer is postural awareness.

Our bodies possess internal tensegrity, meaning that our structure can support itself more efficiently when we are properly aligned.  When we are sitting or standing in poor postural alignment, gravity acts on all parts of us in ways that deform our silhouette and cause us to use much more energy to perform basic movements.  This sets up a vicious cycle in which we feel more tired from fighting gravity and give in even more to the poor posture. The worse our alignment, the less energy we have to correct the posture, and so the cycle continues.  

With poor posture, our visceral organs are not well supported, causing abdominal protrusion.  With poor posture, our muscles are not in their optimal length/tension relationship, causing them to be too weak to fire properly.  When muscles are chronically disadvantaged in this way, they get weaker, smaller, and less firm over time. On the flip side, with good posture, the bones move into elongated positions, putting just the right amount of tension on slack tissues to erase unwanted bulges and firm up muscles that were previously floppy and on slack.

The more Pilates exercises you do (if you do them well), the more strength and tone you will gain in the muscles to maintain the corrected posture, but even in the first few sessions, you will discover the ability to look longer, leaner, and more toned anytime you adopt your correct alignment.  

With all of your Pilates exercises, check in with your alignment continuously to see if you can maintain awareness of each and every part relative to the whole.  Within any exercise, there is the ability to lengthen before initiating the next part of the movement. Often, the length needed is between the base of the skull and the top of the spine.  In any exercise, you will find that awareness of lengthening the crown of the head away from the tailbone opens up freedom for the rest of the body to move more smoothly and efficiently. Many times, you will benefit from lengthening out through your fingertips, heels, or toes to streamline the bones and minimize the effort required in the arms and legs.

To jump-start your body transformation through Pilates, try the following exercises:

Leg Pull Front Support

How to Set it Up:  Start in a plank position with hands directly under your shoulders and toes tucked.

What to Do:  Inhale for nothing.  Exhale, raise R leg and pulse upward 2 times.  Replace R leg. Repeat with L leg.

What to Feel:  Complete stability of all parts of the body except the leg that is raising/lowering.  Buttock and hamstring muscles working to raise the leg. Abdominal muscles hugging inward on each exhale and supporting middle of body.  Muscles of arms and shoulders pressing the floor away from you and helping you to stand tall on your arms.

What to Watch for in your Alignment:  Make sure that pelvis is at correct height to be part of one long diagonal from the back of your head to your heels.  Keep gaze between hands with slight chin tuck so that there are no wrinkles in the back of your neck.

Leg Pull Back Support

How to Set it Up:  Sit with your legs out in front of you, hands behind you.  Raise hips up with legs extended, as in a reverse plank.

What to Do:  Inhale for nothing.  Exhale, raise R leg and pulse upward 2 times.  Replace R leg. Repeat with L leg. Maintain original height of pelvis throughout and do not allow hips to drop as one leg raises up.

What to Feel:  Complete stability of all parts of the body except the leg that is raising/lowering.  Buttock and hamstring muscles working to maintain height of pelvis throughout the exercise.  Chest and collarbones broad and lifted to the ceiling. Muscles of arms and shoulders pressing the floor away from you and helping you to stand tall on your arms.

What to Watch for in your Alignment:  Make sure that pelvis is at correct height to be part of one long diagonal from the back of your head to your heels.  Keep gaze between hands with slight chin tuck so that there are no wrinkles in the back of your neck.

Side Kick Series:  Circles

How to Set it Up:  Lie on your side with both legs fully extended, head resting on extended bottom arm.  Top hand lightly touching the floor in front of you.

What to Do:  Exhale and lengthen top leg so much away from your head that you create more space under the bottom side of your waist.  Then raise top leg while maintaining the lengthened position of the trunk. Do not allow the space under the bottom side of the waist to collapse or the top side of the waist to shorten.  Draw circles that are about the size of a basketball with the leg, 6-8 times, while continuing to lengthen through the whole leg. Repeat on opposite side.

What to Feel:  Buttock and side of hip area working to control top leg.  Abdominals hugging in on each exhale to help stabilize ribs and pelvis.

What to Watch for in your Alignment:  Pelvis squarely facing forward, without allowing top hip to roll forward or backward.  Legs must stay in line with your torso so that spine can stay neutral and long. Be careful not to catch yourself curling up into a fetal position or over-extending into backbending.

 

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