Are you in need of a fresh challenge for September? Then you might want to join my FREE 30 Day Pilates Plank Challenge!
Be aware that this is NOT a traditional plank challenge where you’re asked to plank for an extended period of time!
This is a much smarter plank challenge, which focuses on teaching you good alignment, correct form and understanding the connections that are required to support your body in a truly intelligent way.
The Pilates Way!
If you struggle to find the time to build strength efficiently in your body then this is the challenge for you.
Strength is the number one way to protect your body from injury including things like back, neck and shoulder pain, and the pilates plank is one of the most efficient ways to build functional, full body strength.
Done correctly, did you know that you’ll see results quickly?
You can sign up below to be sent your challenge resources, which include:
Your FREE 30 day challenge calendar (printable PDF)
Access to a short ‘How to Plank (the pilates way) video’ (including modifications and tips to avoid wrist and toe discomfort when planking)
Access to a super quick ‘Pilates Plank Variations’ video (giving you planking options from beginners to advanced, so you can take part no matter what level you’re at)
PLUS I’ll be dropping in with regular motivation and teaching points to keep you inspired along the way!
Our challenge starts on 1 September (tomorrow!) but you can jump in at any point.
Work your body smarter not harder – SIGN UP BELOW to join us!
FREE 30 Day Pilates Plank Challenge
JOIN TODAY AND LEARN TO BUILD STRENGTH THE PILATES WAY!
This simple and quick morning pilates routine is a perfect way to set the tone for the rest of your day, allowing you to move through it with simplicity and ease.
You’ll get some delicious, gentle movement into tight areas like your back and hips and also build strength in that all important core, so as it’s ready to support you for the day ahead.
The benefits of moving your body in the morning
I find moving my body in the morning one of the most productive ways to set me up for a productive and positive day head. Some of the amazing benefits of morning exercise include:
establishing a routine
lower blood pressure
Time in the morning can feel like a luxury, especially if you are juggling family priorites and I know not everyone has the time, or energy, to smash out a 30 minute HIIT session.
That’s one of the main reason’s why I developed The Lifetonic Club – to make it easy for you to fit in a workout that will leave you feeling great but won’t be a drain on either of those things. You can follow this link to find out more about TLC (don’t you just love that the acronym is TLC!).
Getting into a morning routine
It can take a while to get into a routine with exercise in the morning, but I’ve found having a goal to move myself for just 10 or 15 minutes, and focusing on how I’m going to feel after it, is enough motivation for me to roll out my mat.
In fact, I actually look forward to setting my alarm clock to get up that little bit earlier!
And if you’re reading this wondering how you could possibly find the time for yourself first thing, then let me introduce you to a little secret about how to master it – you steal it from your evening.
I had to change my habits many years ago when I suffered from chronic low back pain. The morning was often the worst time for me. I’d wake up stiff, sore and tired, which often translated into a less than positive mood! Often it would take at least 15 minutes just to get up and moving around.
It wasn’t until I discovered pilates and incorporated some simple 10 to 15 minute stretches into my morning routine, that I felt a huge difference, not just in the pain I was having but in my mood too.
And all I really had to do, was get up a little bit earlier than I was actually used to, but the pay off was huge; I’ve not had back pain for over 15 years now.
So yes, I’ve tried and tested the theory that you don’t have to get up hours before work to ‘fit in’ exercise and feel good. Nor do you have to go to bed hours before you get up!
Making your routine work for you
I’ve discovered a way that makes exercise work for me, for my routine, and in a way that helps me to reap all of the incredible benefits of pilates in a very short space of time.
One that leaves me feeling energised, healthy and eager to get up and on my mat every day because of how I feel at the end of it and it doesn’t take up hours of my day.
That’s what feeling good should be all about – easy, accessible and convenient for you.
I think often when we hear the word ‘routine’ we can be misled into thinking it’s about getting up hours before to do 100 different tasks to bring us into a zen like state.
Let me simplify things by telling you that your morning routine should come with ease and instill a sense of calm, which is what this workout is designed to do.
So, I hope you enjoy it! It’s a perfect daily pilates routine for beginners, it will also benefit anyone with a more advanced practice; you’ll get all the healthy movement your body needs in one simple, mood boosting burst!
Use it to bring in some fresh energy for the day ahead and to set you up on a note of positivity for whatever comes your way.
And if you’re looking for a little added inspiration for your morning routine, then you can check out this blog post where I share 5 Tips for a Mindful Morning.
Leave me a comment to let me know what you think and don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube Channel so as you can be notified when other pilates routines, just like this one, go live!
Love Julie x
P.S. After some more quick and simple pilates routines to help you feel good? Then don’t forget to download my FREE PDF – 5 simple pilates exercises you can do everyday below!
A common question I get asked is what’s the best pilates exercise I can do for low back pain relief?
And whilst there are lots I’d recommend, all for different back pain relieving reasons, if I HAD to pick only one pilates exercise for low back pain relief, it would be the Pilates Spine Curl, sometimes referred to as the pelvic curl.
And today I’m sharing a simple How To video that breaks down the exercise, helping you to get the most out of it.
Joseph Pilates once famously said:
The spine curl then, is THE pilates exercise to build flexibilty in your spine at all ages and stages of life!
It’s an exercise that ticks all the boxes when it comes to your back because:
you move your spine sequentially helping to maintain mobility and length in it
it strengthens your glutes and hamstrings; two muscle groups essential for supporting your low back
it opens your hips (anyone that sits a lot needs this!).
When I had my chronic low back pain, this was a pilates exercise that I did daily to get mobility into my back after a long day of sitting.
And the good news is, you only need to do a few of them to feel the benefit – remember at Ostara we advocate for a less is more approach to our health and wellbeing.
The video is less than 10 minutes, so an easy one to sneak into your day.
That said, this is one where it really does pay off to focus on the quality of the exercise, especially if you’re in that low back pain camp, like I was! So watch this as many times as you need to help you get the most out of this tension freeing exercise.
Pilates Pro Tip: Holding the spine curl and taking it into single leg toe taps, will help strengthen those glutes even faster! This is often called the Pilates Shoulder Bridge.
Hit PLAY on your Pilates Spine Curl How To video now and feel for yourself the difference it makes.
Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know if it helps to get your back moving.
See you on your mat!
P.S. Ready to put what you’ve learned into practice and get that back moving? Then use this link to try my short 10 minute Healthy Backs pilates workout from my 21 Day Pilates Challenge. If you enjoy it, then you can sign up for the full 21 days below!
Ever wondered if doing shorter pilates workouts of around 10 to 15 minutes can really transform your health and wellbeing? Then this blog post is for you.
Kindly written by Carrie MacWilliam, a member of my pilates membership, The Lifetonic Club. Carrie shares her story of how being able to do shorter pilates workouts have allowed her to stay consistent with exercise, build her strength back up quickly after having a baby and feel more confident in her body and relaxed in her mind on an on-going basis.
You’ll also read how it’s given her the energy and patience needed to take care of herself & her family.
Why I chose pilates to help me regain strength & confidence
About a year ago I made the leap back into exercise after a three year hiatus. From a very young age I’d always been an active person and enjoyed keeping fit, but the stresses of pregnancy and demands of being a working mum had put that on the backburner – there just never seems to be enough hours in the day! My confidence in my body had also taken a knock.
low on energy
stiff and achy especially in my low back
disconnected from my own body and mind
I had tried really hard to get back into the swing of things with exercise but finding time to get to the gym felt almost impossible. W hen I did make it, I was exhausted breaking a neck to get their on time, and carrying all the gym kit was like a workout in itself! The classes were fast and loud and I often left feeling kind of more exhausted than I was before I arrived.
Something just wasn’t working for me – I knew I wanted to strengthen my body and rebuild my confidence; I needed a new approach but I just wasn’t sure what that was!
Then I discovered an advertisement for pilates for beginners through Ostara Pilates along with Julie’s blog post on the benefits of pilates. All the benefits of practising Pilates completely rang true to me and felt this is what I needed to take my first steps to truly strengthen my body and rebuild my confidence.
I signed up for 6 weeks of pilates for beginners. Making the initial time for myself and not feeling guilty for that was the first step. Julie helped me understand that by taking time to look after my own health, put me in a much better position to take care of everyone else’s; the old adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”
But guess what, as a new mum, busy PR Director and wife, I still struggled with finding those 60 minutes to get to class….
What shorter workouts have done for me
I joined The Lifetonic Club during the pandemic and started by following the pre-planned calendar, making a commitment to do at least 15 mins per day for 30 days and here’s what happened.
Gone was the clock watching and worry of finishing on time to make a class (then feeling guilty when I didn’t quite manage it!)
There was no more packing and lugging a gym bag (not to mention the stress of trying to get changed before a class)
My inconsistent approach to looking after my health disappeared
I no longer felt knackered after every workout
Instead, I got:
A flexible & realistic approach to working out
An easy to follow plan that has helped me to stay consistent even on the days when I don’t feel like doing much
A quicker way to see improvements in my overall health and fitness (I often now do over 2 hours a week in a way that suits me, while also giving me some much needed breathing space)
Support from an amazing community of people all working towards improving their health and fitness in a practical and fun way
A sense of comfort and nourishment whilst everything in the outside world seems so upside down
On the physical side I couldn’t believe how quickly my body’s overall strength and stability returned.
Within one week I felt stronger and more toned. By the second week I felt like I was actually gaining more energy with every session as well as feeling calmer. By 4 weeks my flexibility was so much better and I wasn’t aching as much from taking care of a toddler! I also noticed that I had naturally lost the weight that had come with a maternity leave of cake and hot chocolate.
I feel all the positive endorphins after every session no matter how short and like I have worked all the right places in the right way, and it feels good!
How staying consistent has left me feeling
In short, this is how finding shorter bursts of time for myself has left me feeling:
more positive and energised each day
calmer & stronger than I ever have before
free from niggly aches and pains and tension headaches (but also know what to do if I feel them coming on!)
much more intentional with all aspects of my wellbeing which has a huge ripple effect on those around me (patience with a toddler is a big ask but I now have the confidence to tackle more strenuous activity which in turn has given me a big boost)
Who wouldn’t want to feel like that each day?
I don’t ever remember enjoying exercise as much as I do now so if you’re looking for a way to make long lasting change to your wellbeing routine & have fun with it too, then The Lifetonic Club is for you!
You can read more about joining our pilates membership, The Lifetonic Club here.
Inspired by Carrie’s results? Want to try all the incredible benefits of pilates for yourself? Than sign up below for my FREE 21 Days of Pilates Challenge.
Whether it’s 10 minutes or 60 minutes, the best thing about pilates is that you can get everything you need from a session without any pilates equipment, making it super accessible and easy to get started.
BUT what happens when you’re looking to take things up a notch?!
Enter pilates props (think small equipment); things like the overball (small ball), therabands, light hand weights, the pilates magic circle, a yoga block can all add variety to your matwork, helping to keep them fresh and exciting.
Pilates props also help to isolate or engage specific muscles, and can foster “a-ha” moments even during the most familiar exercises. Like the springs on a Reformer, props can provide support and stability or offer more challenge, depending upon the movement being performed and how they are used – they are also just really good fun, which is what workouts should be!
Here are some of the most commonly used pilates props and how to use them.
1. Foam Roller
The best friend of a lot of sporting professionals and physios, the foam roaller is widely known as a rehab tool designed to smooth out your fascia. As it has a wobbly surface, it’s brilliant for challenging balance. In a vertical position, you can lie on it and try Arm Circles, Single Knee Fold, Toe Taps, or Dead Bug to get those core stability muscles firing. Or turn it horizontally and rest your pelvis on the Roller while spine curling, working up to Bridge. Placed beneath the shoulder blades, it’s fantastic for supporting curl ups and oblique twists and facilitates spinal extension – amazing after being a desk all day!
2. Light hand weights
In Pilates, we use light hand weights to keep the emphasis on the entire body. One- or two-pound weights add challenge to the Standing Arm Series and just about any of the mat repertoire – yes even single leg stretch! Many Reformer exercises, from Coordination to Rowing to Backstroke, can be done on the Mat using Hand Weights.
You’ll find these being used in my Foundational and Core mat classes, Total Barre and also my HIP Pilates class. Brilliant for toning the upper body and building strength in the core (and in the case of single leg stretch, co-ordination too!)
Probably the most versatile of all the pilates props, it is a long, stretchy band that’s available in varying levels of resistance, and is great for stretching the hamstrings and lower back while lying on the Mat – it was in deed a life saver for me when I suffered with my chronic low back pain. I’d use mine to stretch my hamstrings twice a day. The band can add resistance and challenge in so many of the mat exercises including the Side-Lying Leg Series, and it provides support and stability in exercises such as the Roll Up, Roll Back, and One Leg Circle.
Again you’ll find the theraband in my mat classes and also my Barre class.
Probably my favourite pilates prop, the overall is a dream piece of kit for wakening up the surrounding muscles of the inner thighs, ankles, or palms when it’s placed between any one of these parts. It’s also a great for challenging stability and getting those deep core muscles to fire when placed under the pelvis (love doing toe taps this way) and provides a great modification tool when placed under the thoracic spine to help with curl ups.
I also use it in prenatal behind the mid-back to avoid my ladies lying supine (flat on the back) for an extended period of time.
I run a specific pilates with the small ball classes – check my schedule for more information and to book. This is the piece of kit to give you serious shakes and wobbles!
5. Tennis ball
Joseph Pilates invented several small pieces of Pilates equipment specifically to engage and work the feet, most famously the Foot Corrector. The small size and firmness of a tennis ball makes it ideal for waking up the feet. Try rolling the sole of your foot over a tennis ball while standing or seated (try it whilst you’re working at your desk to keep your feet mobile!).
Tennis balls can also be placed under tender areas such as the hips or shoulders for a static stretch or gentle rolling massage.
You will have seen the tennis ball in use during tennis ball rising in my mat classes (we also use spikey balls, which we’ll talk about next).
6. Franklin ball (spikey ball)
These small, inflatable balls are used to massage and wake up the muscles and fascia. Placed beneath the pelvis, lower back, shoulders, or other tight or sore spots, spikey balls work with the body’s own weight to release tension. These balls can be used for static holds or you can slide them back and forth across the fasciae for a self-massage.
Again I’ve used these quite a lot in my matwork classes and last year attended an Art of Motion teacher training course on the slings system with the wonderful Katherine Pentecost. This training class was focused on using these little pieces of wonder to help you find glide and release through your fascia system.
I’ve only ever used the pole in Reformer sessions, but they are so effective when added to exercises like the classic Roll Up as it adds resistance and a challenge on the way up from the floor and contributes to a great stretch in the forward rounding position.
8. Magic Circle
I would have said that this is the most well known of all the pilates props, but I think in recent years there has definitely been a shift more towards the overball in its place. Still, this deceptively simple tool has endless uses and is a firm favourite of mine – you cannot get a better inner thigh workout!
It’s a resistance based circle that you can hold between the ankles, thighs, or palms for finding the mid-line or your ‘centre;’ an important pilates principle (think of the phrase “naval to spine”). The Magic Circle can also create instability (the same way an overball does) when balanced on the floor beneath an outstretched hand in the Side-Lying, or Side Kick Kneeling, or under the ankle of the stationary leg in the One Leg Circle. There’s also an entire standing series performed with the Circle placed above and between the ankle bones — a major balance challenge.
Did you know that many pilates exercises can be modified so that they can be done in a seated position? Sitting upright is especially beneficial for beginners, as it encourages length in the spine (the same effect can be achieved by sitting on a Foam Roller or a Yoga Block). Try Spine Stretch Forward, Spine Twist, or the Saw, for starters. Bonus: you can do these on an airplane or at your desk.
10. Yoga block
In yoga classes, blocks are commonly used to bring the floor closer to you in Forward Folds. In pilates, these firm but not rigid foam blocks can take the place of a magic Circle or an Overball. They can prop up the sacrum in a Bridge and provide a useful perch in any of the seated exercises. Lightly hugging a block between the hands in Single Leg Kick engages the back muscles and upper arms. And can also be used in place of a cushion for the Big Squeeze.
Try adding props to your Mat work and see if it doesn’t challenge you in interesting ways and reveal new information about the exercises and your body.
Hope to see you on the mat!
P.S. Have you grabbed your FREE 20 minute Strength & Stretch pilates workout yet? It’s perfect for beginner level right through to advanced and will give you just the release you need in your body if it’s feeling tight and out of balance. Grab it by clicking here now.
I’d like to thank the very wonderful Mr. Kevin R. Wembridge , Consultant Hip and Knee Surgeon with our beloved NHS for this month’s guest blog post all about the importance of looking after your hips proactively. This is an amazing blog post that will really help you understand not only how the hip works but why it’s so important to look after your body now for later life. It also includes some handy tips on how to test out your hip strength and mobility and how pilates is helping his patients regain muscle balance and strength.
Pilates is the perfect method for stretching and strengthening all of the key muscle groups Mr. Wembridge mentions here, so why not try it for FREE now with my 20 minute Strength & Stretch Pilates Workout I created to help keep your whole body hip and healthy! (Bad joke!). Select the link above or click here and it’s all yours.
Have fun with it!
Biomechanics, is a big word which is bandied around a lot in exercise circles, but what does it actually mean? In its simplest form it is the science of movement of a living body. So, why is it so important and why are there 28,700,000 items related to it on a simple Google search?
Essentially, people are not usually interested in biomechanics until something goes wrong with their own and they have a problem.
They seek help from physios, doctors, alternative therapists and are introduced to the term, seldom understanding what it means or why it is important to them.
There may be a recent injury, a chronic injury or long-term joint wear underlying their problem: however, it may simply be that their muscles are not balanced and working in harmony to allow normal motion.
If we focus on the hip, it being the joint which connects the leg to the torso, the issues should become apparent. Essentially it is a ball and socket joint, which whilst being very stable, allows a large range of movement and has very strong forces which act upon it to help propel us when walking or running.
There are over 20 muscles which move this largest of joints, including the biggest muscle in the body (gluteus maximus).
Fun fact – the acetabulum (socket) is derived from ancient Latin and means ‘little vinegar cup’, as it was used to store and serve vinegar.
Concentrating on three of the hip movement groups (flexion, extension and abduction) should help simplify this further. For each of these, we will focus on the more important muscles only.
Movements of the hip
Let’s start with hip flexion. The main hip flexor is the iliopsoas muscle, which is formed from two muscles – the psoas (fillet steak for the carnivores amongst you) and the iliacus. The psoas arises from the inside of the lumbar vertebrae (lower spine) and is joined by the iliacus (from inside the pelvic wing) in the pelvis. It forms a combined tendon which passes over the front of the hip joint, before attaching to the top of the femur (thigh bone). It is the most powerful flexor of the hip, but also externally rotates the hip (imagine placing your left ankle on your right knee for instance).
If this muscle is tight it will pull the spine and pelvis forward, rotating them around the hip often leading to back pain and imbalance. Conversely if it is weak, stair climbing, hill walking and getting on a bus become tricky.
Whilst hip extension is driven by gluteus maximus, the hamstrings play a significant part with it too. The hamstrings come from your ischium (sit bones) and cross both the hip and the knee to attach on to your tibia (shin). Once you understand that this large muscle group crosses both of these joints, it isn’t a large step to understand that tight hamstrings will not only bend the knee, but also tilt the pelvis backwards.
If you wish to test this yourself, sit on the floor with your back up against a wall, put your legs out straight in front of you and lean forward, tilting your pelvis. The chances are this will feel tight down the back of your legs and behind your knee, unless you are very supple!
This indicates hamstring tightness, which is extremely common, especially amongst cyclists and people who sit for long periods of time.
What is the purpose of abduction? If you have ever been to a gym and seen or used the abduction machine (pushing your legs out to the side), you may think it is just another muscle group to train. It is vital for walking normally. The gluteus medius starts on the outer wall of your pelvis and attaches to the greater trochanter (the bony bit on the outside of your hip) and pulls your pelvis down towards your femur. It is this that allows you to walk easily.
To feel what I mean, place your hands on the outside of your sides between your pelvis and the greater trochanter. As you walk you will feel two things happen. When your right foot is on the ground, you should feel the muscles on your right hand side tensing and the left hand side of your body lifting up a little. This allows your foot to clear the ground, so you may walk normally.
A weak abductor leads to a very abnormal and challenging walk!
These are just some of the muscles around the hip and to coordinate the simplest of tasks, walking normally, means they all need to function properly and together.
Training them as groups, stretching them off and ensuring they are balanced will help you prevent future problems with walking.
Whilst it is impossible to ‘future-proof’ your body completely, everything which you may do to help yourself now, will help your future self more.
One of the issues we have when we undertake hip surgery, is to try and restore the biomechanics of the hip as much as possible. Whilst we can do that to some extent mechanically, it then relies on our patients retraining their hip muscles around this through exercises and physiotherapy.
I have a number of patients who have found significant benefit using pilates to help balance their hip and knee muscles, lower back and core, both before and after surgery.
People often spend a great deal of time and effort in planning their future finances and retirement, only to be too unhealthy to enjoy them fully.
Spending some time now investing in ourselves and our bodies, is surely as, if not, more important? Looking after your body is a hugely rewarding thing to do both now and for your future self.
Wouldn’t it be good in years to come if everyone could look back and say to themselves, I’m really glad I looked after myself when I was younger? Above all, do not get old weak, you won’t regret it.
Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know if you loved this blog post as much as me!
Love Julie x
P.S. Sign up to my YouTube channel to be notified when new pilates videos go live.
*This blog first appeared on the Ostara Pilates blog in September 2020 and to date has had over 133 views, making it the second most read blog post this year.
One – You have to be flexible to do pilates
When I first started pilates, I could barely bend over let alone do anything else! My hands would get to the tops of my thighs and then I would just get stuck meaning my flexibility was practically at zero! However, a few months in and I could start to see my hands getting lower and lower towards my toes whilst at the same time I could feel myself getting stronger and stronger as my core worked to support me on the way down to touch my toes; that balance of strength and mobility that pilates is so famous for.
ake it from me – and from the many clients I’ve taught over the years – you do not have to be flexible to take up pilates. Pilates trains flexibility. It does this mainly through dynamic stretches which means you are always actively moving.
Done consistently, you will gradually see improvements in your mobility, your flexibility and your strength.
Two – Pilates is only for woman.
My first two pilates teachers were both male. Several of my teacher training teachers have been male. And in case you didn’t know, Pilates himself was male (first name Joseph).
Although on the surface of things, it would appear to attract a higher proportion of women, earlier in the year The Sunday Times ran an article on ‘Mat Men’ and called out the rise in the number of men turning to pilates for a variety of reasons including improving their mental health, rehab-ing an injury, solving a low back issue, improving their balance and coordination and using it alongside other training programmes.
Over the years I have worked with many male clients both in a 1:1 and Group capacity and I currently teach a male orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in hip and knee replacements! He came to me because he’d heard such great things about how pilates can safely and effectively rehabilitate joints like the hip and the knee post operation and is also a very keen cyclist looking to improve both his flexibility and strength.
Pilates is for any body and every-body. It is non-competitive and a really smart way to look after your body and your mind regardless of your gender. And remember, you don’t have to be flexible to start it (see point one).
Three – You need lots of fancy equipment to do pilates
All you need is something soft or cushioned between you and the surface you’re working on making it both a cost effective and convenient work out – you can literally do it anywhere!
Although I don’t use a mat when I do pilates at home (my carpet provides enough cushioning for me), it is important that your bones and joints are protected from working on any hard surfaces so if you don’t have a soft surface at home, you’d need a mat around 1cm thick and these can be picked up really cheaply from places like Amazon.
Sometimes in class we use small equipment like the foam roller, an overball, a theraband or light hand weights, but these are all things that have been added to pilates over the years helping to give the matwork routine some variety, and whilst these are all brilliant and introduce a bit of fun to a class, they are not essential.
The original pilates matwork was just Joe on his mat and 34 body weight exercises and nothing else. This is now known as the ‘Classical Pilates’ repertoire.
Since lockdown, we’ve gone back to basics as we’ve not had access to my equipment and it’s been great just to focus on getting a work out using our bodies. No two classes of mine are ever the same and it’s amazing just how much strength you can build with just yourself.
There are pieces of pilates equipment you can progress to, like the Reformer or the Cadillac but you can happily stick with just yourself and your mat!
Like I say – cost effective and convenient.
Four – You need an hour of your time to do pilates
You can build strength, improve your posture and boost your energy in a very short space of time with the pilates method. It’s one of the reason’s why I love it so much – no need to find a very rare 60 minutes to workout! Try it for yourself = this 10 minute pilates for beautiful posture is a great place to start! Just roll out your mat and hit play!
I hope this has helped clear up any misconceptions you might have about pilates or are there any that I might have missed? Leave me a comment if you think I have and I’ll see if i can clear it up for you!
They give you a total body work out, helping you to build strength, move your body in a gentle and kind way and leave you feeling calmer and more energised, they are also super simple. You can do them in 5 minutes or 10 – 15 minutes if you have the time.
All 5 of the exercises included will help you build strength, improve posture and help you re-balance your body. What’s more, they are a sure fire way to help lower stress levels and will leave you feeling great.
Pilates is a form of mindful movement and is known to increase oxygen in the body, boost circulation, build strength, improve mobility, reduce stress and leave you feeling energised not depleted, after every workout. It is a gentle and kind way to care for your body and your mind and you can get all of these benefits in just a very short space of time.
When I was suffering my own chronic low back pain, ‘little, often’ was an approach that worked much better for me over longer periods of being in a gym or attending classes, which is why all of these exercises can be done in as little as 10 minutes as many times as you like in a day.
Let me give you a quick rundown on what you can expect from each of the exercises featured:
Spine Curls – glute strength and a release of tight hips
Oblique Curl Ups – core strength and upper-mid back mobility
Table Top – core strength, improved shoulder mobility and a more open posture
I often use this in teaching right at the start to help everyone to relax down, release tension and focus the mind. You breathe in a pattern of 4-2-6. Give it a go – great to do at the end of a busy, stressful day or whenever you just need a moment to reconnect to life.
Sit in a comfortable seat or lie in relaxation position
Place 1 hand on your belly and 1 hand on your chest
Breathe normally and noticed the movement of your hands. What moves the most? Does the hand on your belly move as much as the hand on your chest?
Start to deepen the breath by breathing smoothly and fully into the hand on the belly. Don’t force anything, just let the belly rise into your hand softly. Do this for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 2
Exhale for a count of 6 allowing your belly to gently fall away from your hand.
Repeat this as many times as you need encouraging your body to relax and your mind to calm. Let the warmth of your hands represent a caring, friendly support. You can repeat “Inhale belly rises, exhale belly falls.”
Fogging the Mirror
You can do this seated, in relaxation position or moving in any form!
Take a full Inhale through the nose
Exhale slowly with the jaw relaxed and mouth wide open
Make a sound as if you were fogging up a mirror
Close your mouth then inhale again
Repeat 10 times
The focus in fogging the mirror is on the exhale, which helps minimise tension. The relaxed jaw also helps let go of tension and helps to get the abdominals to engage properly.
Imagery for Breathing
Glass of Water
Imagine your torso was a drinking glass. Start with the glass empty and abdominals relaxed. Inhale slowly through your nose and fill the glass with water from the bottom to the top. Exhale slowly emptying the class from top to the bottom. This imagery focuses on relaxing the abdominals for better diaphragm movement and the initial action of the pelvic floor and focuses the attention on your abdominals rather than breathing using your shoulders and neck, which is what we tend to do when we shallow breathe. If you think you shallow breathe then give belly breathing a go (see above!).
I hope you find these helpful. Will you let me know if you try any of them?
P.S. Have you read my Pilates for Breathing blog post? There are some great breathing tips in there that I wrote with you in mind!
By far and away, one of the most asked questions I get is around pilates breathing, “I can’t quite get my breathing to match my movements,” “am I meant to breathing in or out?,” “I think I just stop breathing altogether!”
Please know that when you first start out on your pilates journey, nobody gets the breathing so you are not alone! The first objective of breath work in pilates is really just to become aware of your breathing and then to try and keep that breathe natural and fluid as you go; having that awareness is the start of building the mind/body connection that pilates is so famous for. Once you start to become aware of it, this will allow you to develop it as you go I promise.
So why is the breath so important then?
Breathing is a key pilates principle and is one of the building blocks of the practice along with alignment and centering (using core stability) – your ABCs! My community members will know all about this because I created a handy Guide for them all about it.
Intentional breath, or focused breathing, helps calm the nervous system, oxygenates the blood and gets rid of nasties (carbon dioxide) from the body, provides us with energy, activates our muscles and keeps our immune system ticking over.
Breathing is also directly related to the alignment of your skeleton. Nearly all muscles involved in breathing have a postural function and many of them are also involved in stability and help control good alignment as you move. In a nutshell, breathing directly influences stability and control of movement as well as posture and alignment so we are ticking a lot of boxes just by breathing well!
Your diaphragm is the muscle responsible for breathing in your body; it sits between your upper body and your lower body but all 3 parts are connected through your fascia system (that’s like wallpaper on your insides) so just by breathing slowly you are consciously stretching your whole torso – from your neck to your pelvic floor – very cool! The abdominal muscles (especially your deep core ones) are the ones you use to exhale, so breathing out helps kick start your body’s ability to stabilize.
That’s why you will hear cues like ’on your exhale, draw your belly button to your spine’ or ‘draw your abdominals down towards the spine’ or ‘feel your abdominals wrapping around your spine,” that’s me reminding you to think about actively recruiting yours abs on your exhale so as you can give your body some gentle support before you move. It always sounds so much more complicated than it is!
We use lateral (ribcage) breathing in pilates where we consciously breathe into the sides and backs of the ribcage (as if the ribcage was yawing apart), and then as we exhale the ribs draw back in to meet, allowing you to connect and hollow your deep adnominal muscles as you empty your lungs. You then aim to keep this ‘hollow’ as you take your next inhale; holding yourself stable.
Typically we inhale to prepare and exhale to move. However, this doesn’t always work for everyone – sometimes it can be useful to experiment and find a way that works best for you. I’ll do this in The Hundred sometimes when I find the in / out breath count of 5 is too much. If you’re in class with me, you will have seen me do in for 2 / out for 2. I think this is a good compromise for one of the more challenging pilates exercises and is easier to get handle on if you are new to it all.
Whatever you do, just don’t forget to actually breathe! Holding your breath, which is what most people do when they learn something new and are concentrating, adds to tension in the body and we’re trying to release it.
Just remember, that once you feel co-ordinated enough in your movements, then you can start to work on matching the breathe with what you’re doing. We will all be at different stages in our pilates journey so it’s about working in a way that feels right for you – take your time with it, don’t get impatient with yourself. Remember pilates is non-competitive; it’s a journey not a destination so enjoy the ride!
Foundational exercises to support pilates breathing:
Pilates breathing helps stretch the upper mid back, can help to release tightness in the neck, jaw and shoulders, can strengthen and restore good health to the pelvic floor muscles and of course can calm our nervous system. So many benefits!
Here are the key exercises to practice with – get noisy with it and have fun!
Ribcage breathing (with a band or scarf so as you can feel the ribs expanding)
The Hundred (stages 1 and 2)
P.S. Did you realise there was so much going on with just one breathe? I love to know if these tips might make a difference to your pilates practice so if you try them, be sure to leave me a comment with your thoughts.
P.P.S Have you read my post on breathing exercises that I wrote for you too? They are great to have in your back pocket for when you need to take a moment out for yourself or to practice your pilates breathing. I’ve linked them here for you.
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