Sincerely Carolina

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Five of My Favorite Pilates Exercises

by caroline

My mom must have been a great sharer as a kid.

After all, she’s always been willing to share her fun stuff with me.

Like her VitaMix:

And now, her AeroPilates Performer (an at-home version of the Pilates reformer):

Isn’t she the nicest 6-year-old mom on the block?

Prior to injuring my leg, I had already planned to “borrow” (just like the VitaMix I still have in my kitchen) the performer from my mom after she told me she wasn’t really using it at the moment. But when I hurt my calf on Sunday during the race, I knew it would be an excellent tool in helping to mend my leg. I have been certified to teach Pilates since I was 16 (for 11 years) and have always found the exercises to be therapeutic when dealing with an injury or helping to correct scoliosis (which is the issue that originally got me interested in Pilates).

My mom and I earned our certifications together, and I have always been so grateful to have knowledge of the exercise form and how it can change the human body.

So, yesterday afternoon was my first day working through my injury and, after some light stretching, I decided to do a few exercises on the performer. I felt OK and, while my calf hurt, I found that working through my feet in footwork or pushing through the straps for leg circles actually made my leg feel pretty good.

And then I thought, “Why not share some of these exercises with my readers?” So, I put together five of my favorite Pilates exercises for you! What I’ve done is take them from the performer to the floor, so the only equipment you need is a mat and a resistance exercise band. Nifty, huh?

Before we start, a few notes about Pilates:

  • Breathing is done in through your nose (inhale) and out through your mouth (exhale).
  • When we say “belly button to the spine” it does not mean you should suck in your stomach or flatten your back to the floor. Instead, focus on inhaling and then exhaling, and then feel your belly button move toward your spine as you exhale. That’s what we’re talkin’ about! Your belly button should be toward your spine throughout the exercises. It helps to engage the core and maintain posture.
  • We focus on flow where we work through specified movements and only perform about 8 – 10 repetitions of each exercise. Don’t be fooled by that small number. If you’re doing the exercises correctly, then you will feel ’em!

Lastly, don’t do any of these exercises without checking with your doc first — just don’t. You might hurt yourself, and that would make me sad.

Mmm-k, here they are:

FOOTWORK

(On the reformer — or performer in this case) Be sure head rest is elevated. Start with legs bent, balls of feet on bar and with toes wrapped around bar. (I have weird toes that are like fingers, so they are especially good at wrapping. I don’t expect your feet to be freaks of nature like mine.) Make sure the entire ball of foot is pressed into the bar and not rolling inward or outward. Arms are long at sides. Press into the bar, moving the carriage back. Point and flex feet (feels good in the calves, eh?) and bend knees to bring it back in. Repeat for a total of 10 repetitions.

(On the mat) Start with legs straight and a resistance band wrapped around the balls of your feet on bar and with either end of the band in your hands. Hold band so that it is taut. Press into the band, engaging the quad, and point and flex feet. Repeat for a total of 10 repetitions.

FROG

(On the reformer) Be sure head rest is elevated. Put two springs on the machine and lie down on back. Reach for foot straps and loop around feet. With arms long at sides and heels of feet together (so that your feet form a “V”), press into the straps, zipping the inner thighs together. Bend legs back in toward your body. Repeat for at total of 10 repetitions. (Note: The more you lower your legs, the harder this exercise will be. Just be sure to keep your belly button pressed to your spine.)

(On the floor) Lie on back with legs bent and wrap a resistance band around the arches of your feet, holding either end of the resistance band. Be sure the band is taut, and then press the heels of feet together (so that your feet form a “V”). Keeping your heels together, press the feet away from the body, zipping the inner thighs together. Bend legs back in toward your body. Repeat for a total of 10 repetitions. (Note: The more you lower your legs, the harder this exercise will be. Just be sure to keep your belly button pressed to your spine.)

HUNDREDS

(On the reformer) Be sure head rest is elevated. Put two springs on the machine and lie on back with legs bent. Reach behind you for the straps and place around hands. Push hands into the straps and roll head off of the carriage moving the carriage away. Straighten legs on an angle (about 45 degrees), keeping heels pressed together and feet shaped like a “V”. Feel your inner thighs pressing together. Begin to pump arms, keeping the shoulders away from the ears and the carriage unmoving. Inhale for the count of 5 and exhale for the count of five, repeating for a total of 10 sets (for a total of 100). Lower head to the carriage, and bend arms and legs in. (Note: The breath for this exercise should flow and not be in bursts of five, but rather for the duration of 5 seconds for each inhale and exhale (I think, “Inhale … 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … and exhale … 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). In addition, this is another exercise where the more you lower your legs, the harder it will be. Just be sure to keep your belly button pressed to your spine. For a modified version, keep legs bent for the duration of the exercise.)

(On the floor) Lie on back with legs bent and arms long at your sides. Roll head and lift arms off of the mat. Straighten legs on an angle (about 45 degrees), keeping heels pressed together and feet shaped like a “V”. Feel your inner thighs pressing together. Begin to pump arms, keeping the shoulders away from the ears. Inhale for the count of 5 and exhale for the count of five, repeating for a total of 10 sets (for a total of 100). Lower head to the mat, lower arms and bend legs back in. (Note: For a modified version, keep legs bent for the duration of the exercise.)

BICEP CURLS

(On the reformer) Give the machine 2 -3 springs. Sit with a tall spine and crossed legs, back toward the reformer’s bar. (If the crossed-leg position hurts your knees, straighten your legs with headrest lowered and feet through the shoulder pads.) Place each hand in a strap and raise arms to a relaxed straight position. Curl arms in, moving only the lower part of the forearm and bringing hands by ears. Release back to starting position and repeat for a total of 10 – 12 repetitions.

(On the mat) Sit with a tall spine and straight legs, placing a resistance band around the balls of your feet and one end in each hand. Raise arms to a relaxed straight position. Curl arms in, moving only the lower part of the forearm and bringing hands by ears. Release back to starting position and repeat for a total of 10 – 12 repetitions.

MERMAID (This is by far one of my most favorite exercises — I love how it helps to open up the hips and elongate the sides of the body.)

(On the reformer) Sit on reformer with left hand on the bar and right arm toward the shoulder pads. Left leg should be bent in with foot slightly tucked under right thigh and right thigh is bent behind you with the foot lying in between the shoulder pads. Be sure hips are squared and facing forward, and you can feel the bottom part of both butt cheeks on the carriage. (Is there a better way to say that? Yes. Does that make the point? Mmmm, hmmm.) Reach right arm up and over the body, bending your right side while using the left hand on the bar to push the carriage back. Feel the stretch from the tips of your right fingers all the way through the hip. Hips should remain unmoving in order to fully reap the benefits of this stretch. Return to starting position. Repeat for a total of 6-8 repetitions. Switch sides and repeat.

(On the mat) Sit on mat with left hand at your side on the mat and right arm reaching out and in line with the shoulder, palm facing upward. Left leg should be bent in with foot pressing against the right thigh and right thigh is bent behind. Be sure hips are squared and facing forward, and you can feel the bottom part of both butt cheeks (proper term: Sitz bones) on the mat. Reach right arm up and over the body, bending your right side while keeping left hand on the mat for support. Feel the stretch from the tips of your right fingers all the way through the hip. Hips should remain unmoving in order to fully reap the benefits of this stretch. Return to starting position and reverse arms, reaching left arm over to the right side. Return to starting position to complete one repetition. Repeat for a total of 6-8 repetitions. Switch sides and repeat.

So, there you have it! There are so many exercises and their variations that make up Pilates, but these are five of the ones that I enjoy the most and have found to be a beneficial inclusion in my routine. With the exception of staring at my funky feet and work-in-progress guest room, I hope this mini workout can become an addition to your regular workouts. ;)

Keep in mind that while form is a very important factor in Pilates, perfection is not always a possibility. Depending on your level of understanding and/or rehabilitation, it will take time to achieve optimal form. Even though I have been practicing for as long as I have, I still have issues to work through. For example, you’ll notice in the first photo of Mermaid on the reformer, my right hip is slightly elevated. This is something I have issues with (tight, uneven hips) and consistently have to be aware of while exercising.

Let me know if you have any questions and happy working out!

Share with others: What is your favorite exercise for therapeutic needs, relaxation or quick toning?