Pilates for Core Body Strength
Pilates is an exercise system that focuses on developing the body's core postural muscles which keep the body balanced and are essential to providing support to the spine providing strength, flexibility and awareness.
Exercises are generally done on a mat or directly on the floor and sometimes utilize pulleys and resistance.
The most significant benefit is the development of core strength and stability, which is the result of strengthening the superficial and deep abdominal and back muscles.
The fundamental principle is that the body is stable, able to move freely and gracefully if the core muscles are strong and performing properly.
Pilates was formed by Joseph Pilates during the First World War with the proposal to improve the rehabilitation program for the many returning veterans. Joseph believed mental and physical health is essential to one another.
Joseph claimed his method has a philosophical and theoretical foundation. It claims not merely to be a collection of exercises but a method developed and refined over more than eighty years of use and observation.
According to practitioners, the central element is to create a fusion of mind and body, so that without thinking about it the body will move with economy, grace, and balance; using one's body to the greatest advantage, making the most of its strengths, counteracting its weaknesses, and correcting its imbalances.
The method requires that one constantly pay attention to one's body while doing the movements. Breathing also should be done with concentration, control, and precision and properly coordinated with movement.
The very large group of muscles in the center of the body - encompassing the abdomen, lower back, hips, and buttocks - are referred to as the "powerhouse". All energy begins from the powerhouse and flows outward to the extremities.
Intense focus is demanded throughout the exercises when doing Pilates. For instance, the inner thighs and pelvic floor may be assessed when doing a standing exercise that tones the triceps.
Beginners are taught to pay careful attention to their bodies, building on very small, delicate fundamental movements and controlled breathing.
Every movement has a purpose and every instruction is vitally important to the success of the whole. To leave out any detail is to forsake the intrinsic value of the exercise.
The six Pilates principles are centering, control, flow, breath, precision and concentration, with the emphasis on quality over quantity. Rather than many repetitions for each move, significant results may be achieved by completing each exercise fully and with precision.
- Centering: Bringing focus to the center of the body or the core.
- Control: Completing exercise with muscular control.
- Flow: Completing exercise in a fluid and even manner.
- Breath: Completing exercise using a very full breath thinking of the lungs as strong pumps to bring the air fully in and out of the body.
- Precision: Sustaining exercise with awareness of each movement.
- Concentration: Completing exercise with full commitment and attention to each movement.
Here are some helpful tips:
- Warm up: As the exercises are focused on slow and precise movements, it is important to prepare by warming up with basic stretches and sitting down and breathing deeply.
- Bend your knees: Bending your knees help support your back and reduce undue strain on your back muscles. Beginners can start with knees bent and feet resting on the floor. Once you are comfortable with this you can lift your legs above the ground (with your knees bent and shins parallel to the ground) to increase the resistance to your lower abdominal muscles.
- Lower your legs: You can increase the challenge by outstretching your legs when they are in the air and as low as you can without touching the floor. However, be sure not to put strain on your back by lifting your legs if your back starts to arch as you lower your legs.
- Watch your head placement: Allow your head to rest on the ground while doing your exercises if you have neck or back problems. By allowing your head to rest on the ground, you can reduce the strain on your neck.
- Pull in the abdominal muscles: Be sure to pull in the abdominal muscles using a neutral spine (natural curve of the spine still present) and with a deep breath.
- Find your neutral spine position: This is essential for all exercises and promotes good alignment of all body parts.
Finding your neutral spine:
- Rest on your back on the floor with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Rest your arms to your side and point your toe in line with your legs (not to the side). Line up your legs so that your hips, knees and heels are all in one line.
- With your body relaxed, breathe deeply into the back of your rib cage and let it fill sideways rather than lifting your chest.
- Imaging a champagne glass sitting upright just below your belly button. Keep this area flat (so that your champagne glass does not fall over) by allowing the muscles in that area to drop towards your spine while keeping your pelvis still.
- Your lower back should not touch the floor but should be close to the ground and relaxed.
- Take a moment feeling this position while relaxing and breathing fully. This is your neutral spine position.
Pilates can be learned one on one with an instructor, in a group setting, or even from videos, making it affordable and enjoyable for most everyone. Remember: if any type of exercise is new to you start off slow with short sessions and build your way up gradually. If you have any health concerns or medical conditions be sure to check with your doctor for advice before you begin a program.
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