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Pilates 101

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This post is the first installment in what will be a recurring series to expose you to all different forms of exercise & movement. If you think that exercise is confined to lifting weights or running on a treadmill, my hope is that these guest posts will help expose you to additional forms of exercise that might pique your interest.

Kicking us off is Pilates instructor & creator of Thousandfold Lotus, Adrianne Flinn. Adrianne has been teaching Pilates and body movement for the past 10 years.

What is Pilates?

Pilates has popped up in tons of fitness centers over the past decade making the practice more main stream in the exercise world. Understanding exactly what Pilates is appears to be less main stream. Let’s dive into a deeper understanding.

Joseph Pilates created “Pilates,” as we know it, in the 1920’s. His equipment design and exercise repertoire remains almost the same as it did back then. The repertoire can be performed on a mat or on specific pieces of equipment that are present in a Pilates studio. All of the exercises begin with the core as the “powerhouse,” while limbs move dynamically to develop strength and length.

As you probably know, Pilates is classified as a mind-body exercise.  Mind-body exercises require the mind to turn off outside chatter (such as your to-do list) and focus inward on what the breath and muscles are doing.

Once the mind is focused, a student can focus on engaging specific muscles within the body even without visible movement.  These connections ensure proper engagement so those muscles get super strong when applied to physical body movements.

Initial mind-body connections and foundations that students learn when taking Pilates include:
1) How to breath Properly
2) How to connect with all 4 layers of the abdominals.  
3) How to engage the Pelvic floor
4) How to engage the muscles around the scapula (shoulder blade)
5) How to place the neck in proper alignment

Benefits of Pilates

Proper mind body connections during the exercises ensure that the body is working at it’s optimal level biomechanically. The purpose of Pilates is quality over quantity so the execution of the exercises are extremely important.

Benefits of learning and applying all of the foundations include:

-stronger diaphragm
-more oxygen for uptake
-pelvic and lumbar stabilization
-stronger core
-reduced back pain
-stronger pelvic floor
-reduced shoulder injury
-reduced neck tension

Incorporating Pilates into your exercise routine will ensure you develop an even better understanding of firing the proper muscles. The result will be more efficient exercise whether you’re doing Pilates exercises or applying your Pilates foundations to classic fitness exercises.

Once Pilates is practiced regularly, it develops longer, leaner style muscles. Similar to the different body type a dancer would have compared to a weight lifter. The balance between mobility and strength that Pilates applies to the muscles and fascial tissue creates a lengthened muscle tone.

Additional benefits of incorporating Pilates include a more streamlined waist and a stronger pelvic floor. Specifically engaging deep abdominal muscles, such as the transversus abdominis, creates a “personal corset.”  Once students begin Pilates, their pants always get a little loose, even before the scale budges, all because of connecting with those deep core muscles.

The Best Way to Get Started

The best way to get started with Pilates is to take a introductory session at a studio to learn the Pilates Principles or take a foundations course. Once you have an understanding for the foundations, you can apply them into the Pilates full body movements.

Look online to find Pilates studios close to you or find online classes that teach the foundations or beginners sessions.

(Check out Adrienne’s free Pilates Foundations Course).

5 Mat Pilates Exercises

1.Toe Taps: Laying on the floor, engage the abdominals by drawing the rib cage towards the floor and belly button towards the spine. Bring both legs to a 90 degree bend to begin, then tap one toe towards the floor (keeping the 90 degree bend- as shown in the picture). Exhale as the toe taps towards the floor and inhale as the toe raises back up. Complete 10 toe taps total, 5 with each foot.

2. Hip Rolls: Place the feet on the floor hip width apart and arms down by your side, inhale to start. Then, exhale as you begin to roll the tail bone up off the mat and continue to roll through the spine one vertebra at a time (sharing the exhale with the whole roll) until you are in a full bridge (bridge shown in the picture). Complete 6 Hip Rolls total.

3. Single Thigh Stretch: Lift the upper body up into flexion until just the bottom of the shoulder blades are touching the mat. Inhale with the legs at a 90 degree bend to start. Then, exhale and straighten one leg on a diagonal line as the other leg bends in closer towards the chest. Continue to alternate legs for 10 repetitions total.

4.Bicycle: Similar to the previous exercise, bicycle utilizes the same leg pattern but includes a rotation towards the knee the is bent. Lift the upper body up into flexion until just the bottom of the shoulder blades are touching the mat and the hands gently behind the head (not interlocked). Inhale with the legs at a 90 degree bend to start. Then, exhale and straighten one leg on a diagonal line as the other leg bends in closer towards the chest, simultaneously rotate the chest towards the knee that is bent so the elbow goes towards the knee. Inhale to center the chest and return the legs to 90 degrees. Exhale to switch legs and rotate the other direction so the opposite elbow is going in the direction of the opposite bent knee.  Continue to alternate legs and rotation directions for 10 repetitions total.

5.The Hundred: Begin with the upper body lifted off of the mat in flexion so that the bottom of the shoulder blades are grazing the mat. The legs can either be at a 90 degree bend or on a diagonal as displayed in the picture. Reach the arms long and straight and begin pulsing the the arms up and down about 2-3inches, as if you were smacking water with your hands. The arms move very quickly up and down for a total of 100 times, hence the name.  As you pulse, breathe in for 5 pulses and out for 5 pulses for 10 rounds total. Be sure to keep drawing bell button towards the spine the whole time.

Overall, incorporating Pilates into your regular fitness routine will create a streamlined physique and a super strong core, similar to that of a dancer. The foundations of Pilates lie in establishing a mind-body connection with all 4 layers of your abdominals and the pelvic floor. Once a mind-body connection is present, the body can effectively fire up the muscles during full body movements. Give Pilates a try today to bring you core to the next level.

Adrianne Flinn is the creator of Thousandfold Lotus, an online platform that helps women incorporate intelligent exercise into their busy lives. Thousandfold Lotus is an online space that has educational blog posts, video workouts, and free courses! Adrianne has been teaching Pilates and body movement for the past 10 years and loves teaching clients full time in a studio space. To learn more about Adrienne, head to her website and don’t forget to check out her free course!

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