Give Pilates a Chance

V Sit

This article appeared in the print version of Iowa Momentum Magazine (March Edition). Photographs by Dylan Huey of Huey Photography.

Balance, stability, flexibility, and core strength are major contributors to overall physical fitness. Even if you are the fastest guy or gal in your running group or just set a personal best in a sprint triathlon, neglecting to focus on any one of those things will eventually catch up with you. As we age, balance, stability, flexibility, and strength naturally decline. It’s never too late to start working on those components of physical fitness, however. The good news is that you can get started in the comfort of your own home by incorporating Pilates into your weekly routine!

So what is Pilates, exactly? Early in the 20th century, Joseph Pilates developed a method called controlology, which focused on muscle control. Over time, this method was coined Pilates and is now widely practiced across the globe through a series of core-centric exercises. In Pilates, the core refers to the abs, low back, glutes, and hips. While some types of Pilates training involves large apparatuses like the Reformer or Cadillac, you can do mat-based Pilates in your living room!

A big emphasis in Pilates is the breath. In Pilates you inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth with pursed lips. The breath should be deep on the inhale and full on the exhale. As one exhales, the abdominal wall and pelvic floor become engaged and contract. Keeping that engagement on the subsequent inhale is important to the practice. This breathing pattern might be difficult at first, but over time, as stability and strength improve, keeping the abdominal wall and pelvic floor engaged becomes more natural. Coordinating breath with movement is critical to the practice. You want to exhale with exertion, or when the movement requires the most effort.

A great way to put the above breathing instructions into practice is to lie down with your legs bent and feet flat to the floor. Place one hand across your abdominals. As you inhale deeply through your nose, you will feel your abdominal wall expand. Upon exhaling through pursed lips, you will feel everything contract, or squeeze together. Keeping the abdominals and pelvic floor engaged, inhale again, and then fully exhale. Practice this to become familiar with the breathing technique and then begin to incorporate exercises like the ones listed below.

Here are five at-home exercises you can try today! Check out a more detailed article for information pertaining to these exercises and watch a video for a bridge challenge.

V-Sit – Sit with a tall spine, shoulders relaxed. Tilt back to the point where you feel your core holding you in place. Lift legs and focus on breathing in through nose and out through mouth. Once you find your balance you can add small movements such as lowering and lifting the legs or bringing opposite elbow to opposite knee.
Bridge Lifts – Feet firmly planted on floor, lift hips without the ribcage popping out. Hips should be level, shoulders relaxed. Can add movement by inhaling as you lower hips and exhaling as you lift. 
Bicycle Crunch – The key to the bicycle crunch is slow and steady. It should be slow enough so that you can take a deep inhale, exhale on the twist, inhale center, and exhale twist other side.
Scissor– Extend one leg along the floor and other leg to ceiling. Lift shoulders off floor and draw opposite arm to opposit leg. Exhale as you reach up and inhale as you relax back.
Reverse Crunch Lifts – From a face-down position, lengthen through arms with arms placed just to the corners of a yoga mat, or imagine your body shaped like the letter “Y.” Exhale lift about two or three inches while keeping your gaze to the floor and inhale relax.

If you already do Pilates and want to add a little more to your Pilates routine, consider scheduling an appointment with Frank Epstein of Rolf Method Bodywork in Des Moines. Frank has traditional Pilates equipment such as the Cadillac and Reformer that can further enhance your practice. (photo by Forrest Determann)Side Stretch