24 Jul Online Pilates Foundations Course: Day 1 of 10
Online Pilates Course: breathing, core activation and abdominal strengthening.
Before anything, let’s look at where we’re headed so that you get a clear idea of our objective. Click here (PDF) to download the full workout that we are going to be learning.
The numbers on the overview refer to the day that each individual exercise is introduced: Days #1 – #4. These are generally Pre-Pilates awareness raising exercises.
The bracketed new “(new)” refers to new exercises that are introduced on days #5, #6, #7, #8 & #9 respectively. These are generally modified Pilates exercises and/or easy Pilates exercises suitable for beginners.
Breathing, Deep Core Activation and Abdominal Strengthening awareness raising techniques and exercises are looked at here. Although no necessarily physically challenging, these exercises and techniques can present other challenges. Perhaps you discover that in the diaphragmatic breathing awareness raising exercise you breath the wrong way round: never mind, it;’s quite common! Stick with it, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it, with patience and persistence, all things will come.
Exercise of the Week
Here’s an seminal Pilates exercise that demonstrates Posterio-Lateral Breathing: the One Hundred.
There’s lots of abdominal work going on to both imprint the spine into the carriage without the abdominals ballooning out (showing Deep Abdominal Activation) and to maintain the whole body still as the arms pump up and down. You can read more about this exercise: click here.
Most of these exercises are suitable for anyone to do. However, if you have doubts, pain or any other concern, get in touch, or ask a suitably qualified and experienced medial professional.
If you suffer from osteoporosis, Deep Spinal Flexion is contraindicated. Do not therefore perform exercises such as deep spinal flexion.
Pilates should challenge you, both mentally and physically. Not the “no pain, no gain mentality”, but it should be hard and it should challenge you both mentally and physically. it’s a journey and we’re just starting! So, be patient and be kind to yourself. Step out of your comfort zone, by all means, but always keep one foot inside, so that you don’t become disillusioned.
Some of the exercises you will find not very challenging, and that’s fine, but always look for where the challenge might lie. Other exercises will present a considerable challenge. Keep working on them everyday and sooner or later, the door will ope and you’ll be able to walk into a room where new possibilities present themselves.
Breathing in Pilates
Breathing is often the first thing we learn in Pilates. It’s the foundation of our existence and provides the rhythm to life. Breathing techniques can be used to decrease stress, raise or lower blood pressure, improve aerobic capacity and calm the mind and spirit. Breathing has been used in every culture to change mind and physical states in meditation, exercise and daily living.
However, just because it is something that we’ve been doing unconsciously since we were born, doesn’t mean that we can necessarily attach our breathing to our Pilates exercises. We need to become aware of how we’re breathing and learn specific technique so that our palette of possibilities becomes ever more varied.
Breathing with the diaphragm – “Belly Breathing”. A natural breath good for relaxation and stress relief.
Imagine the dome of the diaphragm rising and lowering as you exhale and inhale. Imagine that as you inhale, air is pouring into your body like water into a jug that gets filled from the bottom up. This air (orwater if you like the image) puffs out the belly.
Using abdominal muscles to stop the diaphragm lowering into the abdomen. This energising breath allows us to have active abdominals during our Pilates practice.
The reason that we don’t really want to use the Diaphragmatic Breathing is that it can cause the ribs to pop out and destabilise the spine, allowing the pelvis to rock backwards and forwards. In contrast, posterio-lateral breathing encourages the deep stabilising muscles to engage and it’s these which stabilise the whole lumbo pelvic (lower back and spine) region – this is another important principle of movement.
It’s trying to get that connection to these deep muscles that is fundamental to PIlates and really sets it apart from other fitness methods. Feeling this deep connections takes another Principle of Pilates: concentration.
The inhale is the expansion into the side of the ribs and the exhale is the contraction. But you might also find that to keep the abdominal region pulling in on the inhale takes a great deal of abdominal contraction and awareness. It may take some time to totally get this, but keep persevering as it will come, sooner or later.
Wrap a towel, belt or theraband around your torso and as you inhale, feel the ribs expand into the band:
Deep Core Activation
The core is the foundation to every Pilates exercise. Learning to connect to the different parts of the core is key to not only our Pilates practice but efficient and problem free movement in daily life. The core consists of the abdominal muscles that wrap our abdominal cavity like a corset (transversus abdominis), the muscles that help to support our spine (multifidi and transversospinalis) and the diaphragm and pelvic floor.
Lower Back Muscles
These lower back muscles play a vital role in supporting our spine in all activities. This is an exercise designed to help us become more aware of them. If you don’t feel the movement first time, don’t despair and don’t belabour it, but do keep on trying on subsequent days and it will happen!
This is an awareness raising exercise to how the “abdominal corset” (Transversus Abdominus) works in the lower abdominal region. The connections we learn to feel and develop here are vital in our Pilates practice at every level.
Thinking of sinking the abdominals towards the back of the pelvis.
This is an awareness raising exercise to how the “abdominal corset” (Transversus Abdominus) works in the lower abdominal region, this time in kneeling.
Notice the sensations and connections as you pull in your abdominals and become familiar with the as these sensations will help you in later exercises.
Imagine you are a pregnant cat pulling up your kittens on the exhale. Try to separate our your soft bits from your bony bits: don’t allow your spine to move as you exhale and pull in your abdominals.
Abdominal Curls & Abdominal Curls with Rotation
Two simple exercises that done properly, will help us strengthen the abdominals for more challenging work down the line…
… not that these aren’t challenging!
Abdominal Curls – exercise sequence:
- Draw in the abdominals
- Take a quick sniff to air to inhale, maintaining the hollowed out abdominals.
- Initiate the roll up movement by starting to exhale through pursed lips. This helps to create back pressure, which helps to maintain the deep abdominal contraction.
- Continue to exhale as you lift your torso off the mat, drawing in the abdominals further and imprinting your lower spine into the mat.
- When you reach the lower part of your shoulder blades, stop. Take another quick sip of air like you dis at the start.
- Initiate the roll down by beginning to exhale and then roll down.
Abdominal Curls with Rotation – exercise sequence:
- Roll Up as you did above 1-3.
- Initiate the rotation with a long inhalation.
- When you reach your range of movement,
- begin to exhale and return to the centre
- Inhaling, rotate to the other side and repeat …
Abdominal Curl Checklist
- Do you feel any neck strain? There are various solutions. Be sure to activate your shoulders by pressing your head into your hands and your hands into your head and lengthen your neck by sliding your shoulder blades down your neck. If the problem persists, get in touch and I’ll give you other, simple solutions to this common problem.
- Do you feel strain in your lower back? This is usually because you haven’t engaged your abdominal muscles properly. Right from the get go we’ve focussed on how breathing out activates the abdominals. Spend the first part of the outbreath drawing your navel towards your spine and then begin the actual movement.
- Do you find that your movement is only very small? Don’t emulate the Sit Ups that people so often do in the fitness industry where they almost touch their foreheads to their knees. Focus on creating the connections in your body. Over time, you’ll be able to curl up father with great control and then you’ll be able to show the “fitness” people how awesome you are!
- If your abdominals “pop out” – you’re curling up too far. You ribs should stay at hip height, but no further. Think of your ribs softening as you curl up.
- You find the exercise insufficient challenge? Keep practising and focus on creating more and more intense connections in the shoulders and abdominals whilst eliminating all unnecessary tension elsewhere. There will be further challenges down the road – I promise.
These Concepts in Action: “The One Hundred”
The One Hundred is a signature Pilates exercise and it’s the first exercise of the Mat Series. It represents a significant challenge for beginner, but once mastered, you really know that you’re on your way!
Click here to see the exercise on the Reformer.
Q. Is Pilates the only form of exercise I need to take?
No, it’s advisable to take some form of aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, cycling, tennis or swimming.
Q. When breathing out through the mouth should I be blowing the air out forcefully?
A. Yes, you should be tensing the muscles and forcing it out through slightly pursed lips – that helps to create back pressure. Think of the air actively streaming out of your mouth. Joseph Pilates had a small apparatus to encourage people to breathe with force. You will learn to vary the length of your exhalations depending on the rhythm of the exercise. If the movement is short, your exhalation will be shorter and if it is long, your exhalation will be longer.
Q. I am asthmatic and need a ventilator, will this affect my ability to do Pilates?
A. No, on the contrary, the breathing we explore in Pilates is very beneficial for everyone, including people who suffer from asthma. This is because you are simultaneously strengthening muscles and learning more breath control. If in doubt, keep your movements slow and don’t push yourself too hard.
Q. I find it hard to remember the movements and to breathe correctly at the same time. Can I learn the movements and add the breathing later?
A. It’s not advisable because either you’ll be learning to hold your breath whilst exercising or you’ll have to unlearn an incorrect breathing pattern. It would be much better to go slowly on some of the simpler exercises and work on them until you’ve got the feeling of breathing correctly. This partly why the majority of these exercises are Pre-Pilates: they help us learn the basics before moving onto more challenging work.
Q. I smoke – will this mean I can’t do the Pilates breathing?
A. It might make it harder, especially if smoking has caused some damage. Maybe Pilates will inspire you give up smoking?
Q. In Yoga I’m taught to breathe in a different way. This is different. Which is best?
A. I would never want to teach someone how to breathe and say that’s how you should be breathing! Instead, I would teach you breathing techniques that help you on your Pilates journey. The types of breathing you do in yoga are best for yoga, the the types of breathing you do in Pilates is best for Pilates. The more colours an artist has, the more alternatives and choices there are!
Q. I’m still having trouble with the Abdominal Curls. I can manage one or two, but then I lose all sense of connection in my body. What am I doing wrong?
Nothing. Keep up your daily practice and it will improve. As you progress through the course, you’ll notice than many exercises build up on each other and they will help what you’re doing now. Don’t give up and create a daily exercise routine that you can sustain!
Q. I thought that the abdominal muscles are the core? Why are we looking at the back muscle, diaphragm and pelvic floor as well?
What we are calling the core consists of a whole system rather than isolated muscles that do a specific action. Modern anatomy and physiology takes a much more holistic view nowadays and muscles are viewed as parts of systems. That is why I’ve presented Deep Core activation and Abdominal Strengthening together. In the next lesson, we’ll be looking at how to use our increased awareness of “the core” to help mobilise and stabilise the lumbopelvic region.
Q. I strain my neck when I do abdominal work. Should I work on strengthening my neck?
First you need support for your neck. Start the abdominal Curls with a towel, as you get more connected to your abdominals, you can do without it. There are neck strengthening exercises that you can do. Get in touch and I’ll help you out.
Q. Can abdominal muscles be too strong?
A. Yes. If abdominal muscles are too strong, they overpower other muscles. that means that muscles will be restricting movements. That’s why we always focus on working towards balanced muscle development in Pilates.
Q. My friend does abdominal curls really quickly and with lots of repetitions. I feel silly going so slowly. Which is best?
A. Pilates is actually quite fast (we call it “flow”). But we start slowly and deliberately to make sure that we are in control of the movement: breathing fully, disengaging our back muscles and not allowing our abdominals to pop out.