Pilates is a type of exercise that can be pared down to a few basics or built upon to create more complex sequences. When Joseph Pilates developed his method, originally called Contrology, he recommended a regular practice schedule that would not overly fatigue the muscles. In his book, “Return to Life Through Contrology,” Pilates encourages consistency and says a brief practice is better than skipping exercise altogether.
Find your neutral spine. Lie on your back on your mat, arms at your sides, then bend your knees and align your feet with your hip bones. Maintain a small curve in your lower back if one is present. Remember this as your bridge position. Breath a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through the mouth. Imagine you are wearing a snug wetsuit to keep your torso in a still position. Tuck your chin slightly to extend the back of your neck.
Do a shoulder bridge exercise to warm up. From your bridge position, inhale deeply to prepare, then breathe out, slowly curving your tailbone up off the floor. Work your spine off the floor in sequence until you are pressing your hips straight up to the ceiling while you balance on your shoulder blades. Inhale, then begin the reverse motion. Exhale and lower your spine back to the mat, top to bottom. Repeat five times.
Do the hundred. Put your legs in the air as you lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Straighten your legs as much as you can, but keep your tailbone on the mat. Lift your head and shoulders and look below your navel. Pump your arms rhythmically, low to the mat. In the first five counts, breathe out through your mouth, emptying your lungs. Inhale in the next five counts while pumping your arms, without arching your back. Repeat this breathing sequence 10 times in a row to complete one hundred pumps.
Do the roll-up. Extend your body on your mat, facing up with your arms overhead and feet slightly turned out. Imagine the backs of your upper thighs are laced together. Breathe in to prepare. Bring your arms around to start the exercise, exhaling slowly as you pull up your head, shoulders and spine in sequence from top to bottom. When you are seated, continue to reach forward. Inhale as you stretch your back. Look down at your legs and begin to exhale as you reverse the movements, pressing your spine back down on the mat, bottom to top. Reach back over your head and inhale. Do five to eight repetitions.
Do criss-cross. On your back, bend your knees to create a 90-degree angle with your legs in the air. Support your head with your hands gently behind your neck, then crunch up at the ribs and lift your head and shoulders off the mat. Bring your right knee in toward your body and extend your left leg out at a 45-degree angle. Deeply inhale as you twist the left side of your ribcage up and over toward your right hip. Exhale and hold, drawing down on your abdominal muscles. Twist to the other side while inhaling, then hold and exhale again. Turn back and forth with this controlled breathing pattern. Repeat eight to 10 times.
Tips and Warnings
- Pilates exercises should be performed slowly, precisely, and without sharp movements or bouncing.
- Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
Pilates exercises should not hurt your back or neck. If they do, stop and seek professional advice about your exercise form or symptoms.
About this Author
Faith Watson owns Exercise In Disguise Alternative Fitness Studio in Gilberts, Ill., is a PMA-certified Pilates teacher, an NSCA-certified personal trainer, and an official Zumba instructor. She also specializes in non-diet weight management and wellness lifestyle coaching. Previously, Watson was a copywriter and brand strategist for large clients in health care and technology.