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Super Body Shaper
By Caroline Sandry Photos shot on location at Sha Wellness Clinic, Spain. www.shawellnessclinic.com
Joseph Pilates said “in ten sessions you will feel the difference, in twenty you will see the difference and in thirty you’ll have a whole new body” Well I can’t guarantee that, but I can guarantee this – Pilates is a fantastic way to shape up!
ilates matwork is something that can be done at home, at the gym or away from home if you travel for work. All that is required is a mat to protect your spine and enough space to lie down and wave your arms and legs around!
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what your body is actually doing Breathing – deep thoracic (rib) breathing Centering – initiating movements from the ‘powerhouse’ or centre Flowing movements – movements should be graceful and fluid Control – each movement is performed in a slow controlled manner Precision – each movement has a purpose
Back to basics
The principles of Pilates are: ■ Concentration – Key to connecting mind and body ■ Relaxation – working without undue tension ■ Coordination – being aware of Pilates is great for creating a long, lean silhouette – like a ballerina and can give amazing strength as well as a lean physique. It uses a very important and often neglected part of our anatomy: the deep musculature of the pelvis and torso:
the pelvic floor (PF) and the transversus abdominus (TF) which work in harmony with each other to support the spine and internal organs. The ‘powerhouse’ includes these muscles, plus the musculature of the hips, buttocks, abdominals and lower back. When we were young, we were often taught to ‘suck in’ our belly, and most people would breathe in to so-called hold their stomach in. But – this is wrong practice; inhaling naturally expands the chest and stomach whereas exhaling naturally flattens the stomach. Try putting your hand over your navel and then blowing out hard. You should feel the abdomen contract and draw inwards this is the TA working – similar to an invisible girdle. With this in mind, try to exhale on the exertion part of each (and any other) exercise whilst drawing your abdomen in- navel to spine. You could imagine a weight pressing down on your
The exercises selected are all intermediate and not for complete beginners, or for those who may have an issue with their back or neck. Run through the movements slowly a few times taking care to apply the principles of Pilates, and then once you are familiar with the exercises, try to move swiftly from one to the other in a flowing sequence which you can repeat twice.
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Standing tall, feet and knees hip width apart, slowly circle your shoulders back x 5 Inhale and lift your shoulders up to your ears, exhale and release them down x 5 Keeping your chin parallel to the floor, turn your head 3 times each way Raise up onto your toes, and bend one knee then the other ‘marching’ on the spot for one minute Standing tall, inhale to prepare, and then exhale to slowly roll down one vertebra at a time until your hands are down by your toes, or shins according to flexibility. Inhale to stay, and exhale to slowly curl back upright, using your abdominal muscles to rebuild the spine. Repeat x 3
Pilates uses a very important and often neglected part of our anatomy: the deep musculature of the pelvis and torso: the pelvic floor (PF) and the transversus abdominus (TF)
stomach or an internal cable inside drawing your belly button down towards the floor. Because the abdominals are engaged in this way, breathing changes in Pilates to lateral thoracic breathing or sideways rib breathing. In simple terms – because your abdomen is drawn in, you need to use another space for the breath, so the aim is to fill the sides and back of the ribs. Try this; lie on the floor with your knees bent, and place a heavy book on your abdomen. Gently draw your belly button down as you exhale, and then try to stay flat in the abdominals keeping the book still as you inhale and exhale into the sides and back of the rib cage. I mentioned before that the PF works with the TA: your PF muscles are deep internal muscles which support your internal organs such as the bladder. You have front and back PF muscles, and we need to locate the front group - try to draw your internal muscles upwards as if lifting something up inside. (Try not to squeeze your bottom as you do this.) As you practice Pilates, try to get used to drawing PF upwards and TA inwards simultaneously in a relaxed manner.
Single leg stretch 1
■ Lie on your back knees bent and hip width apart, feet flat on the floor ■ Exhale and engage TA & PF as you lift one leg at a time until your knees are above your hip and bent to 90 degrees ■ Place fingertips behind your ears, and flex head and shoulders forwards ■ Exhale to straighten and lower one leg away from you, inhale to return. ■ Keep head and shoulders lifted and abdominals flat ■ Repeat 10 on each leg and then move onto -
Single leg stretch 2
Repeat as before, but this time with arms held out to your sides about one foot from the floor, palms facing forwards. To increase the challenge hold toning balls in each hand.
Training tips – The challenge is to keep neutral spine and flat abdominals throughout so pay attention to your spine and ensure it stays still as you move your leg away from your body.
■ Lie on your back knees bent and hip width apart, feet flat on the floor ■ Exhale and engage TA & PF as you lift one leg at a time until your knees are above your hip and bent to 90 degrees ■ Straighten legs and inhale to draw them in towards your chest ■ Exhale and flex the spine up off the mat, one vertebra at a time until legs are overhead and parallel to the mat ■ Inhale and separate legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart ■ Exhale to articulate spine down to the mat from your upper back through to your tailbone, slowly and with control. Lower the legs as low as possible whilst keeping the head and spine on the floor ■ Inhale to re-start the process ■ Repeat 3 to 4 with legs separate and 3 to 4 with legs together.
Training tips – keep your weight off your head and neck and on your shoulder blade area. Keep TA & PF engaged throughout the movement. Try to keep shoulder blades down and away from your ears.
■ Lie face down with arms overhead and legs outstretched and hip width apart with a slight outward rotation (toes pointed and turned out) ■ Inhale to prepare, and exhale to lengthen and lift all four limbs from the floor. Head lifts in line with the spine. ■ Exhale to lift right arm and left leg even higher, and then exhale to lift opposite limbs in a kicking style as if slow motion swimming. ■ Speed the movement up as if splashing in a pool, and inhale for five kicks, exhale for five kicks repeating a series of 20 – 30 kicks. ■ Push back into the Child Pose afterwards to stretch out the back: bottom back on your heels and head down on the floor, with fingertips down by your toes. Stay and take several deep breaths.
Training tip – it is still important to draw PF & TA up and in gently as you perform this exercise to help stabilize the spine. Keep the legs turned out (think ballerina) and the buttocks gently squeezing. Try to lengthen your limbs as you lift as if you are trying to touch opposite corners of the room.
Side Lying Legs
■ On your right side, arm bent and with elbow directly under your shoulder, legs out stretched – slightly in front of you ■ Keep your rib cage lifted and your spine straight, as you lift the top leg up to hip height ■ Exhale to lift the top leg, keeping the hips and waist still and inhale to lower ■ Repeat 10 times ■ Lower your leg back down and rest for 20 seconds, before lifting the top leg again and drawing small circles x 10 in each direction. ■ Repeat on the other side.
Training tip –keep navel drawn in to spine, and stay lifted in the ribs and waist. Keep the torso very still as you move – particularly as you circle the leg.
The Side Bend
■ Lie on your back knees bent and hip width apart, feet flat on the floor ■ Exhale and engage TA & PF as you lift one leg at a time until your knees are above your hip and bent to 90 degrees ■ Exhale and flex head and shoulders up off the floor to look through your knees ■ Straighten both legs and lower one towards the floor, bringing the other in close to your face and reaching both hands up towards your ankle. ■ Exhale and pulse the lower leg twice (breath is two puffs – as if blowing out candles) ■ Inhale as you start to switch legs by reaching them up towards the ceiling so they pass each other ■ Exhale as the second leg lowers and pulses twice and continue with a smooth flowing motion scissoring the legs apart. Repeat x 16 ■ To increase the challenge, try performing with your arms down by your sides, palms down and six inches off the floor, or with toning balls in each hand and palms turned upwards.
■ Sit on one hip with your knees bent and the top leg opened, foot flat on the floor slightly in front of your sitting bones. Your bottom leg rests on the floor with the foot just behind your top foot. Your body is supported on your arm – hand in line with the hip and a little away from the body. Your top hand rests on your top knee. ■ Inhale to prepare and lengthen the supporting arm, drawing the torso away from the floor and the shoulder away from the ear. ■ Exhale to lift the pelvis upwards (imagine your hips are being lifted in a sling) squeezing inner thighs together and reaching top arm overhead. ■ Inhale to bend the knees and return hip back to the floor, hand back to the knee. ■ Repeat x 3-5 on each side. ■ To increase the intensity you could hold a toning ball in the top hand.
Training tips – keep the hips stacked throughout - one hip on top of the other. Imagine a sheet of glass in front of the hips and keep both hip bones touching the glass. Keep TA and PF engaged and stay lifted in the ribs and waist. Keep ‘lifted’ in the supporting shoulder.
Once you have completed the sequence, come onto your back, draw your knees into your chest and gently rock from side to side. Place both feet on the floor, knees bent and arms relaxed by your sides and rest for a minute, taking deep relaxing breaths.
If you enjoyed this sequence and want more great Pilates workouts, or to order toning balls check out Stott Pilates great range of DVD’s – I recommend the ‘toning balls power pack’ which includes a DVD, wall poster and two weighted balls. www.stott-pilates.co.uk or freephone - 0800 434 6110.
Training tips – Stay engaged in TA/PF and keep abs flat throughout. Think of reaching the legs away from each other, and try to prevent the hips from rocking around.
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