Front & Centred

Getting to the Core with Pilates

BY JO-ANNE BUNBURY

Pilates is a true mind-body discipline that strengthens and stretches, corrects muscular imbalances, encourages improved postural habits and can alleviate back, neck and other joint problems. It promotes proper musculo-skeletal alignment and neuromuscular patterning while balancing muscular force at the joint level.

It works several muscle groups simultaneously through smooth continuous motion, with a particular concentration on strengthening and stabilizing the core.

When there is strength in the deep core, a more-dynamic link is established between the upper and lower body, a Pilates principle known as centring. The body is more apt to distribute forces efficiently thus reducing compensation and stress through the peripheral joints.

The exercises in this series are modified and inspired from the Matwork and Reformer Pilates repertoire and are designed to flow one into the other. We’ve added the foam roller to increase the challenge to spinal stability, as well as strength and mobility in the shoulders and hips. Once you’ve spent a few minutes warming up with cardiovascular exercise, repeat the whole sequence a couple of times, turning this into an interval-type workout. Play with the pace to alter intensity. Keep the movements fluid and controlled and concentrate on the whole-body connection.




Half Roll Back with Twist
Starting position: Sitting, knees bent, feet flat on floor, hip-distance apart. Round spine forward over the knees to create a C-shape. Hold the foam roller at either end with arms parallel to floor and keep your gaze at your knees: (1)
Exhale: Keeping the C-shape, roll halfway back, curling pelvis under; simultaneously bend elbows, squeezing roller. (2)
Inhale: Curl back over knees, reaching arms forward to start position. (3)
Repeat 8-10 times, then, on last one, straighten spine to sit tall (4), then:
Exhale: Curl pelvis back, reaching arms overhead and rotating upper spine to one side. (5)
Inhale: Return to sitting tall position, lowering arms to shoulder height. (4)
Repeat, rotating to other side. Complete four on each side, alternating.

Tips: Ensure your ears stay aligned over your shoulders at all times. When reaching arms overhead, keep them in line with your ears. When twisting, ensure that both feet stay flat on floor and hip bones stay square to front.




Single-Leg Stretch
Starting position: Roll onto back, shoulders curled off the floor, arms reaching to ceiling, with slight pressure of hands into foam roller, legs in tabletop, knees over hips, eye gaze toward knees. (1)
Exhale: Stretch one leg away on a diagonal. (2)
Briefly Inhale: Transition back through tabletop.
Exhale: Stretch other leg away on diagonal. Repeat 10 times

Tips: Ensure that tailbone remains in contact with floor and avoid excessively arching the lumbar spine from floor. Keep the tabletop leg in line with the hip for more intensity and closer over navel to decrease intensity.




Side-Lying Abduction
Starting position: Lying on one side, keeping a straight line from head to toe, bottom arm long, one end of foam roller placed at bottom rib lengthened against body, top hand on top of roller and whole body slightly leaning forward onto roller, feet flexed.  (1)
Inhale: Activate glutes and lift top leg to just above hip height, reaching through heel.  (2)
Exhale: Lower the leg to a slight hover over bottom leg, continuing to reach through heel.
Repeat 5-10 times.

Tips: Avoid leg hinging forward or behind line of torso. Keep knees pointing forward. Ensure whole body stays in one line and avoid sinking waist into floor.




Plank-Pike-Twist Combo
Starting position: Hands on foam roller, plank with legs together, concentrating on keeping the shoulders flat against the rib cage and the spine stabilized in neutral, one long line from head to toe with the gaze slightly forward of roller. (If wrists are problematic, this can be done on forearms without roller and still have the same intensity level).
Inhale: Prepare by lengthening through top of head.
Exhale: Lift one leg to hip height or slightly higher, squeezing glutes and keeping knee and spine straight. (1)
Inhale: Lower foot to floor. Repeat two times on each leg, alternating, then:
Exhale: Keeping foam roller still and spine straight in neutral alignment, pike hips to ceiling, bringing head between arms. (2)
Inhale: Keeping spine straight, lengthen head and feet away from each other to return to plank.
Exhale: Twist pelvis to one side, keeping upper torso square to floor, weight even on both feet and pelvis centred between shoulders. (3)
Inhale: Return to centre, still up in plank.
Exhale: Twist pelvis to other side.
Inhale: Return to centre.
Repeat whole sequence 2-3 times from leg lift. Then lower knees to floor.

Tips: Think of pushing away from the floor to help maintain shoulder alignment. If a rest is needed between sets, place knees on floor. Be careful not to hyperextend the neck or sag through the body; pull up and in through the abdominals to maintain support.




Shoulder Bridge
Starting position: Lying on back, neutral spine, feet on top of foam roller directly under knees.
Inhale: Lift pelvis and spine off floor to a bridge. Keep one line from shoulder to knees. (1)
Exhale: Lift one leg to tabletop, maintaining bridge. (2)
Inhale: Lower leg to roller. Repeat other leg, then:
Exhale: Roll spine down to neutral start position.

Tips: Keep pelvis still in space when lifting legs. Keep shoulders grounded and avoid overextending lower back.


Jo-Anne Bunbury has been teaching Pilates for more than 10 years after being introduced to it at New York University while pursuing her post-graduate studies. She owns Calgary Pilates Centre.