Pilates is a body conditioning system that focuses on creating postural flexibility and strength by engaging both the mind and body.
Pilates is a body conditioning system that focuses on creating postural flexibility and strength by engaging both the mind and body. Incorporating elements of yoga and gymnastic principles, the discipline was originally developed in a World War I prison camp by Joseph Pilates.
Born in Germany in 1880, Pilates was plagued with rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever as a child. Determined to conquer his frailties, he became a body builder and sportsman, skilled in gymnastics, yoga and martial arts. In 1912 he went to England where he became a boxer, circus performer and a self-defence instructor.
As a prisoner of war in England, he became frustrated by the lack of facilities for immobilised internees and designed apparatus using springs from hospital beds. Based on this equipment, he formulated a series of specific isometric exercises using breathing as a method of controlling movement.
The same philosophy exists today. Favouring precise and fluid movement, the emphasis is on developing awareness originating from a strong central core. Particular focus is on the abdominal, lower back and buttock muscle groups.
Pilates instructors believe the advantage of this discipline is that it can identify muscle weakness, isolate the affected muscle group and work to correct imbalance both internally and externally.
The first Pilates studio was established in New York in 1926. Recognised as a new and effective method of body conditioning, Pilates quickly gained popularity with performing artists, the Hollywood acting fraternity and sports professionals.
A Pilates studio houses five especially designed apparatuses that are used to develop strength and power in the muscles. Most studios offer one-on-one introduction sessions where you will be assessed and a programme structured for your specific needs. As it has become more popular, some studios now offer mat classes to cater for larger numbers.
The body remains correctly aligned to ensure muscle balance is achieved.
Advocates lateral breathing from the lower rib cage. Increasing the amount of oxygen in the body will allow you to perform more efficiently.
By using a series of stabilising techniques the muscles provide a strong centre and help prevent injury when exercising.
An important part of the Pilates philosophy is concentration to produce precise and co-ordinated movements.
Movement is slow and flowing to develop muscle fluidity.
Pilates works from within the body outwards to create a long-term, sustained effect. Endurance and stamina are improved through strengthening the deep postural stabilising muscles.
Pilates & Pregnancy
Pilates exercises are ideal during pregnancy because they are gentle and slow. It promotes healthy posture and teaches control and the ability to handle stress. It is highly beneficial for
working the pelvic floor muscle group.
After 20 weeks, it is advisable to avoid curl-ups or lying flat on your back. If you feel dizzy or nauseous, roll onto your side until the feeling passes.
Arms and upper body stretch
This exercise can be carried out up to three times a day and will benefit your upper body.
- Sit in an upright chair or stand straight with your shoulders back.
- With your elbows bent and pressed against your ribs, hold your hands out in front of you with your palms upturned.
- Maintaining your elbows pressed against your ribs, extend your hands as far as they will go. When you have reached as far as you can, stretch your arms outwards until they are straight.
- Hold for a count of ten.
- Slowly bring your arms back down so that your elbows press against your ribs. Move your hands towards the front again so that you are back where you started.
- Turn your hands so your palms face the floor.
- Repeat the whole process ten times.
This exercise increases strength and flexibility in the back muscles to help ease discomfort.
- Spread a large towel or mat and lie down so you are comfortable.
- Bend your legs so that your feet are about a foot from your buttocks.
- Keep your knees together or if this difficult place a small cushion in-between them.
- Let both knees flop gently to the right whilst turning your head to the left and bring your right arm over and try touching your left shoulder. Reach as far as feels comfortable. If you cannot reach your shoulder or find you can reach further this is fine. Do not over strain or over-stretch.
- Hold for a count of ten seconds.
- Repeat on the other side, bringing your knees over to the left, turning your head to the right, reaching towards your right shoulder with your left arm.
- Repeat ten times on each side.
Post Partum Pilates
Following childbirth, Pilates can be useful to encourage a speedy recovery.
This technique will help strengthen and streamline your legs and improve flexibility and stability.
- Lie on your back and extend your arms by your sides.
- Hold your stomach in and raise one leg to 90 degrees.
- Keeping your leg extended, cross it over your body to just past the opposite shoulder and then circle back to the starting position.
- Ensure your lower back and hips remain in contact with the floor.
- Execute five circles, then reverse the motion and do five more.
- Repeat with the other leg.
- Perform twice on each side.
If you have any history of back trouble bend the stabilising leg on the floor and minimise the circular movements.
For leg circles first raise your foot to as close as 90 degrees as possible.
Single Leg Kicks
This exercise strengthens your back and hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps.
- Lie on your stomach and prop yourself up on your elbows.
- Pull your abdominal muscles in so that you are stretching through the spine and your head and back are fully extended from the hips.
- Maintaining this position inhale and kick one heel up and back to meet the top of the thigh for two sharp pumps.
- Return your leg to the floor, exhale and repeat with the other leg.
- Repeat 20 times on each leg.
- Rest for one minute then repeat the set again.
For single leg kicks begin on your front.
Bent-leg Partial Roll-Up
Improve flexibility and strengthen your abdominal muscles by practising this technique.
- Lie with your knees raised and your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
- Place your hands behind your thighs and pull your abdominal muscles in and up, stretching up through your spine.
- Whilst exhaling, bring your chin on to your chest and smoothly and slowly roll up one vertebrae at a time.
- Raise as far as is comfortable and hold for three counts
- Inhale and slowly roll down to the starting position. Keep your abdomen hollowed out and your head towards your knees.
- Fully extend and straighten your spine and begin the roll up again.
- Do two sets of 10 repetitions, resting for a minute between each set.
Begin with your spine flat on the ground.