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Pilates: The Essentials

Pilates: The Essentials

Pilates is one of the 21st century's most popular exercise methods, which changes the way you look and feel from the inside out, but is often misunderstood. Find out what it's all about in this film.

Step 1: What is Pilates

Pilates is a mind-body exercise method that was created by a man named Joseph Pilates in the early 1900's. The method has evolutionised over the years but the original principles still apply.

It is great for lengthening and strengthening muscles and for improving posture, coordination and flexibility. It is also a key exercise method for those recovering from injuries.

Pilates is suitable for a wide range of people - from the older generation looking for a more passive but equally as effective workout - to top athletes, golfers, horse riders, gymnasts and dancers.

Step 2: Types of Pilates

There are two types of Pilates available on the market.

First you have mat work which consists of a series of exercises all to be performed on the floor and which we cover here in VideoJug. In many cases these are divided into levels, to distinguish between the basic, intermediate and advanced exercises.

The second type is machine-based classes. The machines function using springs to create resistance and provide a very effective tool for doing non-weight bearing, though challenging exercises. These classes are especially beneficial if you are recovering from an injury or accident or suffer from osteoporosis.

Step 3: Breathing

In Pilates the breathing technique is specific and different from those used in yoga or singing.

It helps the flow of oxygen to the muscles, preventing unnecessary tension, and aids with concentration and in providing a strong abdominal support.

During Pilates exercises you are encouraged to breathe deeply in through the nose and out through the mouth, in long controlled breaths.

To achieve the feel of this breathing method, wrap a towel or exercise band around your rib cage just below the breast.

Feel how your rib cage opens like a Spanish fan and pull your belly button to the spine while you're breathing. Imagine a smile painted on your stomach to keep it broad and flat.

Step 4: Developing Core Strength

Your 'core' is formed by the muscles deep within the abdominals and back, attaching to the spine or pelvis. Some of these muscles include the transversus abdominals, the muscles of the pelvic floor and the obliques, just to name a few.

These muscles are key in stabilising the torso leaving us free to do a wide range of movement without hurting or injuring ourselves.

To begin working on this, let's focus on connecting the abdominals.

Lie down somewhere comfortable and gently pick one foot then the other off the floor to a tabletop position. Have your back flat on the floor. Inhale and as you exhale, think of pulling the stomach in and back towards the spine. You should imagine a 'wrapping' sensation from one side of your waist to the other, as if you were doing up a wrap-over top.

While practicing Pilates exercises, aim for this sensation every time you breathe out and with practice, also when you breathe in making it constant throughout.

Your core strength will improve as you continue with practicing Pilates. The stronger your core strength, the more you'll be able to do - this even applies to everyday life, from carrying the shopping home to hanging curtains.

Step 5: Positioning of the Pelvis

If you learn to correctly stabilise the pelvis throughout exercising, you put less strain on the lower back and exercises generally become easier. There are two positions used in Pilates.

The first position is: Neutral, which is generally adopted in the exercises with the legs down.

To find this, lie down and bend your knees up. Now tip your pelvis towards and away from you, through the full range of movement. Neutral can be found more or less in the centre of this range. You will have a small curve in your lower back and the pelvis should be straight. A good thing to imagine is balancing a saucer on the lower abdo