I’ve talked over and over again about the different exercises you can expect to see when you enter into a Pilates workout: the Hundred, Short Spine, Teaser, Climb-A-Tree, etc – and if you visit our Pinterest Boards, you will find quite a few of them in living color. Every studio will offer a little variation in their work-out and variety as to which exercises you might do on any given day depending on the instructor, class level, equipment being used, focus, and whether or not the workout is a group class or private instruction. However, every pilates workout should include some shared fundamentals to be effective. Let’s take a look at the Pilates Fundamentals that you will always find in your work out, at Studio Be Fairfax.
The Spine and Mobilization
One of the big keys in a pilates workout is the mobilization of the spine. This includes flexion, extension, and rotation of the spine. What are these ? A few definitions to help…
Flexion of the spine:
The “c” curve that everyone talks so much about is (roughly) closing the space between the crown of your head and your tailbone, towards the front of your body.
Extension of the spine:
Think of bending the spine backwards.
Rotation of the spine:
Rotating the spine counterclockwise and clockwise.
Why do we care about this? The mobilization of the spine is important because it is often neglected in our daily lives. We sit and work on a computer, sit and drive our car, and sit and watch our kids play sports. ( I just described my life ) When we do reward our body and throw in a little exercise, it often doesn’t involve the mobilization of the spine, like when you run, the spine stays in a rather fixed position. When you lift weights, there may be some spinal movement but that isn’t the main focus. When you ride a bike the spine may be in slight flexion but it does not really move in or out of the position. And when you carry a heavy bag, child, or groceries you probably favor using one side – we’ve in fact, talked about that previously (read more )- and again, spinal movement is not what you want there either.
So my point is: The spine needs to move. Moving the spine will strengthen all of the muscles which attach to the 24 vertebrae that you have. It will help make the weak parts of your back stronger and the tights parts of your back looser – beginning the process of healthy posture and the end to back pain. Working the spine in flexion, extension, and rotation evenly on both sides of the spine will begin to even out those imbalances created by favoring one side. And working in the three modes on unstable surfaces (e.g. a foam roller, or ball) or using other parts of the body to challenge stability will help you find stability in your spine and body.
Shoulders and Hips
A complete workout will also focus on the mobility and stability of the shoulders and hips. Since the mobility and stability of the spine play such a large role in pilates, it’s natural that there’s also a lot of focus on the shoulders and hips. The hips are directly connected to the bottom end of the spine via the sacrum, and the shoulder blades lie flat (or they should lie flat) on either side of the upper spine. The spine can directly affect the pelvis and shoulders and vice versa.
Because of our daily life activity, it’s easy for the hips to be uneven, tight and stiff, or loose and weak. Working to create stability with mobility in the hips will eliminate these issues while creating a strong connection in your body between your lower extremities and the torso/spine. After all, pilates is about connectedness.
People don’t often realize how important those two little winged bones on your back are (aka shoulder blades) Poor little guys, they really get neglected in most forms of exercise. In most people, the muscles between the shoulder blades are loose and the chest muscles are tight. This is a muscle imbalance and it only helps you sit in your favorite hunched-over position, ( did you just sit up straight? ) which gives you tension headaches and neck pain.
Stabilizing and mobilizing the shoulder-blade muscles and shoulders will help the upper spine (thoracic spine) move with efficiency and ease and create connection between the arms and upper spine.
Core, Core, Core
So, if I haven’t told you already, pilates is about the core – the four abdominal muscles. So a good workout will focus on the core abdominal muscles and how to engage them properly. Often core work in pilates is done in the midst of exercises which focus on hip, shoulder, or spine mobility. It is the core that helps the stability aspect of these movements – making pilates a unique form of exercise.
Pilates is kind of like those moms who try to sneak veggies into their kid’s meal. You know, “Here’s a bite of mashed potatoes, sweetie” but the kid doesn’t realize there’s some blended broccoli in there. In pilates you do many exercises which may seem like they aren’t working the core, but if you’re doing it right, you WILL taste that broccoli. But it is a good feeling, right? That’s what you signed up for!
Strength, Endurance, and Principles
A complete Studio Be workout will also build strength and continue to test endurance. You should feel challenged – there’s always another level. The more advanced you get, the more coordination and focus on balance will be added into each exercise. Though pilates pays a lot of attention to the spine, hips, and shoulders, the rest of your body should not be neglected either! Alignment is about the entire body and some exercises should be thrown in to work the entire arm as well as the entire leg. But remember: it is also your job to be aware and engage your entire body no matter what the exercise is. A Pilates exercise (as in a single one) = a full body workout.
Instructors give reminders, but it is your job as a student to take control of that body you have. And last but never least, the principles. A complete workout needs the principles at the forefront of your mind in each and every exercise. They are your ticket to making every exercise a full body workout.
One More Fundamental: A Good Instructor
Along with these key points to create a well-rounded pilates workout, the instructor you have is also a large determining factor. The instructor should give clear cueing, personal corrections to form and alignment, and be able to demonstrate when needed. An instructor should be able to answer specific questions about each exercise and should also tell you why you’re doing each exercise, what it will target, and where the emphasis should be. An instructor should be able to give modifications for every exercise, as well as know when to give them and why (e.g. to alleviate pain if a standard exercise doesn’t work for you).
Additionally, if the session is a private or semi-private, the instructor should be tailoring the workout to your needs. This means designing a workout to restore YOUR muscular/body imbalances (eg. tight hip flexors and loose hamstrings), as well as meeting personal goals (e.g. swimming better or improving posture).
Hmmmm – I just described every instructor at Studio Be Fairfax.
Suite 215 | 4211 Fairfax Corner East Ave., Fairfax, VA 22030 | Phone: 703-222-0122