We’ve partnered with the Pilates gurus from Club Pilates in Cahaba Heights and with local artist, textile designer and owner of Cotton + Quill, Mary Catherine Folmar, to bring you a fabulous, core-strengthening Pilates workout — complete with illustrations.
These are all exercises that can be done at home with a mat and in just 15 to 20 minutes. “We spend a lot of time hunched over in our modern culture,” says Club Pilates instructor Lindsay Booker. “Whether we’re at a desk all day or just spending too much time on Instagram, we’re wreaking havoc on our backs. In Pilates we strive to restore balance and flexibility in the spine by working it in all directions — flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation. And we cover all of them in this workout.”
This series covers a few of the basic moves that are central to the Pilates method, so it’s a great way to dip your toes in the world of Pilates, a practice that strengthens the spine and abdominal core. Through focusing on deep muscle building around the body’s central support column, you’ll enjoy better posture, balance, flexibility and strength — without the wear and tear that comes with running or jumping up and down in aerobics classes. And did we mention you can do these in the privacy of your own home?!
So, don your favorite workout threads, grab a mat, and give these six Pilates moves a whirl!
6 Basic Pilates Exercises
1. The Hundred
Benefits: The Hundred is the first exercise in Joseph Pilates’ original order. It works the abdominal and respiratory muscles, as well as the arms at the shoulder joint.
- To begin, bring legs into tabletop position and lift head, neck and shoulders. Lower the back down into the mat — keeping the navel pressed toward the spine, and the ribs lowered in and down towards the hips.
- Take a deep inhale and begin pumping the arms up and down, keeping wrists straight and elbows soft. Repeat, deeply inhaling and exhaling as you pump the arms up and down.
Reps: Do a total of 100 breaths.
Tips & Modifications: Lower your head down if you feel your neck is straining or if you want more work in the lower abs. Bring the legs up to a 90-degree angle for an intermediate option and to a 45 degree angle, as shown in the illustration, for a more advanced one.
Benefits: Bridging works the posterior chain, massages the spine and opens the hips.
- To begin, lie on the mat with arms at your sides.
- Take a deep inhale to prepare, exhale as you peel the spine off the mat, one vertebra at a time until the knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line.
- Take a deep inhale, then exhale as you roll the spine down, one vertebra at a time until spine is back on mat. Gently reach the sit bones toward the heels, keeping your back on the mat and imagining your spine lengthening.
Reps: 5 to 8
Tips & Modifications: To make this more challenging, keep the pelvis level and bring one leg straight toward the ceiling, as shown in the illustration, and add some leg circles at the top for some killer glute work! If you have a back injury such as a herniated or bulging disc, avoid articulating the vertebra and simply lift the pelvis.
Benefits: Back Extension is the opposite of hunching over a computer or staring down at your phone — and it feels so good! It is the one exercise Club Pilates recommends doing every day, without fail!
- Lie on your belly with forehead on the mat and arms glued to the sides.
- On an inhale, lift the head, shoulders and chest — keeping the collar bone wide and opening the sternum. Imagine your shoulder blades hugging the spine and sliding down in a V toward the tailbone.
Reps: 5 to 8
Tips & Modifications: The abdominals should always be engaged and the back of the neck should stay long, keeping the head in alignment. Avoid over-extending the spine if you have spondylolisthesis. If you feel this in your lower back, make sure you are lifting the navel and dropping the pubic bone.
Open Leg Rocker
Benefits: Open Leg Rocker challenges the core and massages the spine.
- Begin balancing on sit bones with knees into the chest.
- Bring legs to an open V and hold both ankles, keeping the back straight and the collar bone wide.
- On a deep inhale, come into a deep C curve by scooping the abdominals inward, drawing the bottom rib to the hip, and roll backwards onto the shoulder blades.
- Exhale as you roll back up to sit bones, avoiding using momentum.
Reps: 5 to 8
Tips & Modifications: Avoid using momentum or relying on a rocking motion. Really engage your muscles and let the contracting of the muscles guide the rocking motion. It’s a lot harder than it looks! This exercise isn’t safe for those with back injuries, so skip this one if you have a bulging or herniated disc.
Single Straight Leg Scissors
Benefits: Single Straight Leg Scissors works the abdominals and stretches the hamstrings.
- Begin with legs at a 90-degree angle and shoulder blades lifted off the mat. Set your gaze at the upper inner thighs.
- Pull one leg toward your face and drop the other leg toward the floor, pause and switch. Be sure to hold the calf or thigh — never the knee — and keep the legs as straight as possible. Move with your breath, keeping the core stable and belly hollowed.
Reps: 10 to 20 for each leg
Tips & Modifications: Lower the head if you have neck issues or tension. Keep the lower back down to protect the spine when legs are in the air unsupported.
Benefits: Planking is a must in all of Club Pilates’ classes and these side plank variations get rotation of the spine and lateral flexion of the torso, ultimately strengthening the obliques.
- Hold a side plank with feet staggered or stacked, keeping a plum line from ear to ankle.
- Imagine you are between two panes of glass as you lift and lower the hips towards the ceiling and the floor.
- You can add “thread the needle” by using the obliques and lats to twist, reaching the top arm under and across the body. Gaze follows the moving arm, keeping the hips facing forward.
Reps: 3 to 5 on each side
Tips & Modifications: Drop to forearm if you have wrist issues. If the shoulder girdle is not strong enough, you can leave the bottom knee on the mat and extend the top leg.
Now, make sure to drink your water because we’re betting you’ve challenged some new muscle groups with this core-strengthening workout! Way to go!
Thank you Mary Catherine Folmar of Cotton + Quill for her lovely illustrations of these Pilates moves! From her brand-new Crestline storefront, Mary Catherine currently offers custom color-matching for all of her existing textile and wallpaper designs, as well as custom patterns. To schedule a consultation or for more information, call (205) 438-6514 or visit Cotton + Quill.
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