Online Pilates Foundations Course

Online Pilates Foundations Course: Series 1 Episode 3

Online Pilates Course: Series 1 Episode 3

foundation #6: spinal strength

foundation #7: spinal mobility


What and why?

Pilates could well be described as an exercise programme that is all about the spine: the both the legs and the arms are attached by the pelvis and shoulder blades and the spine is what links them together.  It needs to be both strong and supple at the same time!

A properly designed Pilates progamme will mobilise and strengthen the spine in all directions. Every activity we engage in throughout our lives, from running to swimming, driving cars to picking up children involves movement of the spine. If we lose mobility in one or more areas of our spine, movement will be compromised and injury and pain can result.


Jargon Buster!

Do you need any help with jargon from this page  Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!


Links to other Episodes

If you’ve missed previous lessons,  or just want to skip around, here are handy links:

Introduction to the Course:

How it all works and how to use it! click here

Foundations of Pilates

Series 1 Episode 1: Foundations: “#1 Breathing, #2 Deep Core Activation and #3 Abdominal Strengthening” click here

Series 1 Episode 2: “The Spine & Pelvis: #4 Position & #5 Control” click here

Series 1 Episode 3: “Spinal #6 Mobility & #7 Strengthening” click here

Series 1 Episode 4: “Shoulder #8 Mobility and #9 Stabilisation” click here

Series 1 Episode 5: “#10 Alignment & Standing” click here

Principles of Pilates

Series 2 Episode 6: “Breathing & Concentration” click here

Series 2 Episode 7:  “Centering and Control” click here

Series 2 Episode 8: “Precision & Flow” click here

Joe’s Pilates

Series 3 Episode 9: Starting the Traditional Series

Series 3 Episode 10: Starting the Traditional Series


The Workout: Pilates in Flow #3

In this workout you can find all the exercises covered in installments 1, 2 & 3.

What you need

Just your amazing self.  You still don’t need a mat!


About 25 minutes.  When you know the exercises and the routine, it’ll take much less.


click here (PDF)



The Exercises:

Foundation #6: Spinal Mobility


Cat / Cow

Imagine that you spine is as flexible as a snake or a fish and try to move every vertebra. Use your “paintbrush eyes” to increase the mobility of your spine by looking at your navel as your spine rounds towards the ceiling.

Really focus on the movement of the pelvis rather than the shoulders in the “cat” part of the exercise.

Side note:  I know that we’ve already looked at the Cat / Cow twice in the previous section: once to find neutral using bony prominences and the other to find neutral using muscle tension, or connections.  So, instead of awareness raising exercises, this is time we’re looking at it in terms of an exercise that promotes spinal mobility.  You can use either bony prominences or the sensations of connections to find your neutral position whilst doing this exercise.



Tail Wag

Imagine that your foot is a dog’s tail as you move it from side to side. This will help to increase the flexibility of the hip joint as well as the spine.



Side Bends: Hip Circles prep

This is an exercise to get you started on Hip Circles: a Pre-Pilates exercise that many people find difficult due to the control required.  Here we break Hip Circles down into smaller movements.



Lumbar Spine rotations: Pelvic Clock prep

The Pelvic Circle is a wonderful Pre-Pilates exercise focussing on finding your Neutral Spinal Position and Spinal Mobility.  BUT, again, like the Hip Circles (Preparation, above), it can be frustrating at first.  So why not try this as a starter?



Foundation #7: Spinal Strengthening

Practice in all positions: on all fours, supine, side lying and prone!  That’s why I’ve put these exerciss in an unusal order – to encourage us to practice what tends to be forgotten!  As Joe Pilates said: “what you least like to do, you do twice” – I’m paraphrasing that as: “what your most likely to forget, you do it first!”



Begin by finding your neutral position by using the “pelvic pushes” from earlier. If you have difficulty with this exercise, try lifting alternately your arm then legs.
Be Careful not too curve forwards: maintain a neutral spine.



Mini Swan

Draw in your abdominals to protect your lower back and limit the amount of movement there. Focus on the shoulders and getting maximum movement in the upper spine. Begin by sliding your shoulder blades down your spine: imagine putting them into your jeans’ pockets. Keep your head in line with the rest of your spine. Imagine watching a marble roll away from you as you elevate your torso.



Alan Herman’s Rockets

Lie on your front, resting your forehead on a book or similar to align your spine and neck. Your arms should be resting by your sides with your palms facing up. Bring your heels together so that your legs are rotated outwards (externally).
Reach your arms towards your feet whilst maintaining the position of your back.
Still reaching and lengthening through your arms, feel the muscles of the upper back become engaged and connected.
Reaching further towards your feet, allow your torso and head (keeping the neck spine alignment) to rise and pulse your arms towards the celiening with the palms facing up.
Remember to engage your abdominals before reaching your arms. Imagine your shoulder blades melting down your back!



Bridging: Pelvic Curls & Tilts

Side Note: You can think of Bridging as an extension of the Pelvic Rocking we did in the previous day’s lesson.  We used Pelvic Rocking to explore our neutral spinal position.   This time we’re looking at Pelvic rocking as a start and end of another exercise.  Pilates has many examples of how one exercise builds up on awareness, skills or strength that we learned somewhere else. 

So, don’t skip out on coming back to neutral between each repetition of your Pelvic Curls.


Bridging: Pelvic Curls

  • Imagine you’re wearing a striped T shirt (or a string of beads) and you’re lifting each strip off the floor one by one.
  • Alternatively, imagine that your tailbone is an airplane taking off the runway and is climbing upwards and forwards, lengthening your spine.



Bridging: Pelvic Tilts

Instead of curling your spine off the mat, this time, try elevating your straight spine off the mat.  Focus on creating the connection to your lower spine that helps keep your spine straight as it works in opposition to your abdominals.



Bridging: Typewriter

Move the hips from side to side, keeping the hips level. Think of an old manual typewriter that had a bobbin that would move from side to side.  I like to think of this type of exercise as an “anti-rotation” exercise, in contrast to Hips Dips below.



Bridging: Hip Dips

I like to think of this type of exercise as an “rotation” exercise, in contrast to Typewriter above.



Bridging: Pelvic Curls with Marching

Imagine that your hips are suspended in a hammock as each leg floats up.  If one hip drops as you lift your leg, engage the glute to keep the hip bones (ASIS) level.  If you’d like a further challenge (!), place a ball or foam roller under the supporting foot.



An Extra Exercise:

Spine Twist Supine

This exercise is invaluable  for learning to rotate the pelvis and lower back while maintaining the desired alignment of the core.  When rotating the most common error is to passively allow the lower back to arch so that the spinal extensors not the abdominals power the movement.  Learning to use the transversus abdominis and internal and external obliques in can protect thespinefromijury when in rotation.


Bringing our legs into Tabletop Position is a fundamental supine position that is used in Pilates.  There is a great deal going on here:

  • the calves point the feet and stretch the fascia and muscles along the shins;
  • the knee flexors hold the knees at ninety degrees;
  • the hip flexors hold the legs at ninety degrees to the pelvis while the
  • abdominals and spinals work together to stabilise the pelvis against the weight of the legs.  remember the Toe Taps and Marching from day #2? click here




Q.  I get cramps in my hamstrings when I do the Pelvic Curls.  What am I doing wrong?

Push less into your feet and don’t grip your thighs so much.  Focus more on achieving the connections around the abdominals and pelvic muscles.  Think of lengthening (as opposed to compressing) your spine as you roll up.


Q.  I don’t understand the difference between the Pelvic Tilt and the Pelvic Curl.

The Pelvic Tilt focuses on our spinal muscles and the Pelvic Curl focuses on the abdominal muscles.  Try Pelvic Rocking exercises and really try to create the connections in your spine for spinal extension and abdominals for flexion, then slowly increasing the range of motion, roll up higher each time.


Q.  When I do the backbend exercises (The Swan etc) I get lower back pain.  What’s wrong?

There’s nothing wrong.  Try to use the shoulders more, feel the work coming from the bottom of the shoulder blades to bring your heart forwards and up.  You can also pull your navel in towards your spine to protect your lower spine and prevent too much bending there.


Q.  I hate The Bananas – I fall over and its just really hard!

Don’t give up.  Keep on trying and you’ll get there!  This exercise is the doorway to a whole series of sidebending exercises that are really cool to do!


Q.  What everyday movements are potentially dangerous for us?

Lack of movement is the worst thing you can do for your body.  Our bodies thrive on movement – so don’t sit or lie down for long periods.  Don’t pick things up with straight legs, always bend your knees. Avoid carrying children on the same side, alternate.  Don’t lift loads that are too heavy for you, Watch out for supermarket trolleys with bad wheels as they force us to push and twist at the same time.


Q.  I have sciatica.  Are there any exercises I should avoid?

First consult with your doctor or physio – although to be frank, I hear clients tell me that their doctor recommended that they do Pilates without knowing much about it.   Follow the rules for good posture to avoid strain on your back. Avoid arching your back. So in exercises like The Swan, avoid bending at the lower back, use your abdominals and really focus on the shoulder depression aspect of these exercises.  Do hamstring stretches gently. Small pelvic Curls and Tilts are good and so are Toe Taps and Marching type exercises.


Q.  Is Pilates like Yoga? No, not really.  I think that Pilates is as similar to Yoga as Pilates is to any other fitness modality.  I believe that it is not question of Pilates vs (insert your chosen fitness modality here).  Instead, it is Pilates and (insert your chosen fitness modality here). Pilates will help you do everything you love (and don’t love) better.

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