Most people have experienced a Pilates class in a gym or leisure centre, but how much do we know about Pilates and the philosophy behind it?
Pilates is not only a type of exercise that can help you get fit but it is also about exploring the
classical method and its powerful effect on the body. It is important to understand the whole
philosophy attached to Pilates before starting an exercise programme.
Pilates is a system and not just a series of exercises on a mat: even the exercises recommended here to keep fit at home should be used as a maintenance programme after learning the Pilates method.
Pilates is for everyone: from children to the elderly, for people with various levels of fitness and is suitable for pregnant women too.
You can perform Pilates exercises at three levels: basic, intermediate and advanced.
Usually you work through a choreographed sequence of movements which have to be executed
with precision and maximum concentration. Sometimes following a sequence is not possible
especially if you have an injury and you need to follow a special programme of exercises.
Pilates should not be taught in large classes as you need to receive individual attention from the
instructor: Pilates is a bespoke method.
The method was created by Joseph Pilates who worked mainly with New York dancers recovering from injury. His most famous client and protege was Romana. Danielle Kleber, a traditional Pilates instructor based in Marylebone, London within a private and fully equipped studio, trained with Romana and is one of the privileged few who did. Therefore, Danielle teaches "true" Pilates straight from the source. Danielle believes that when applied correctly Pilates can change the way you relate to your own body, understand how it works and become more confident in your appearance.
Joseph Pilates himself was a sportsperson and athlete who built himself up after being a very weak child.
Joseph Pilates developed some equipment to support and engage the client to challenge the body in different ways. Pilates is about controlled movement, concentration and breathing. The main focus is in your "power house" or core stability: the muscles supporting the back and abdomen plus the inner legs and glutes.
You know you have completed the exercises correctly and successfully if, after your Pilates session, you feel stronger, taller and more focused. The aim of Pilates is to elongate and tone the muscles without building bulk.
Here's five exercises from Danielle Kleber that you can do at home to keep fit.
1. The Hundred. Picture 1 A: Start lying on your back and pull your knees into your chest. Inhale, and when you exhale flatten your back against the mat. Keep in contact with the mat pressing your back down and raise your head up folding forward from your upper back.
Picture 1 B: Stretch your arms out alongside your body and reach forward squeezing the shoulder blades together. Straighten and lift your legs upwards squeezing the inner thighs and glutes together.
Keeping your arms straight, move the arms up and down pumping 100 times, inhaling for 5 beats and exhaling for 5 beats. Ensure you maintain the position and alignment during the exercise. At the end lower your upper back and head, hug your knees into your chest. The "Hundred" is a Classical Pilates exercise to warm up and oxygenate the body.
2. The Roll-Up. Picture 2 A: Start by stretching your body onto the mat then squeeze your glutes and your inner thighs together.
Raise your arms keeping them straight to the ceiling, lift your head, inhale and raise your upper body rolling forwards. Picture 2 B: Keeping your lower body glued to the mat, roll up and move your spine bone by bone starting from lifting the chin, then the chest, ribs, belly then pushing forward towards the thighs, exhaling. Keep your stomach pulled in. Picture 2 C: Full roll forward.
Reverse by rolling back bone by bone squeezing the glutes and tucking the tailbone in, inhaling and pulling the stomach in. Repeat 3-5 times and finish lying flat with your arms alongside your body. The aim of the Roll-Up is to strengthen, articulate and stretch the spine.
3. Single Leg Circles. Start the exercise by first stretching one leg out and pulling the other leg bent towards the chest, then straightening it to the ceiling holding with both hands. Picture 3 A: Keep one leg straight and raised to the ceiling, the other straight and on the mat and the arms straight alongside your body. Lengthen the back of your neck on the mat. The lower leg should be anchored to the floor. Picture 3 B: Move your raised straight leg across the body and start drawing small circles inhaling at the start of the circle and exhaling coming back. Always keep the lower leg and hip in contact with the mat for stability. Repeat 3-5 times, then reverse the direction repeating another 3-5 times. Switch legs. End by bending both knees and rolling up to sitting. This exercise articulates and strengthens the hip joints while stretching the side of the legs.
4. Single Leg Stretch. On your back, bend both knees into your chest. Picture 4 A: Hold your right leg and pull it towards your chest with the right hand on your ankle and the left hand on the knee. Extend the opposite leg and hold it above the mat, the chin is lifted, inhaling. The stomach is pulled in and the back is anchored to the mat. Exhale and switch legs, repeat 5-10 times for each set. End by pulling both knees to your chest. This exercise is part of the "Stomach Series" and is linked to the following two exercises without changing the position of the body.
5. Double Leg Stretch. Picture 5 A: Lying on your back, pull both knees into your chest lifting your head and keeping the elbows straight. Picture 5 B: Inhale and stretch out your arms and legs out and away from the centre, reaching with your arms back by the ears and the legs out forward at 45 degrees over the mat. The back is anchored to the mat. Exhale drawing your knees back pulling the stomach in. Repeat 5-10 times and finish by pulling both knees into the chest, exhaling. This exercise strengthens the "powerhouse" in your core muscles and stretches the body.
6. Spine Stretch Forward. Picture 6 A: Sit upright with your legs stretched out on the mat slightly wider than hip width and arms stretched out in front of you parallel to the floor. Flex your feet, inhale and sit up taller stretching the spine upwards. Picture 6 B: Tuck your chin in and start rounding the upper back towards your belly exhaling. Think of a "C" shape with your upper body. Continue exhaling and stretching forward pulling your stomach in. Start reversing inhaling. Exhale when you are back in sitting position pressing your shoulders down and stretching the arms out in front of you. Repeat 3 times trying to increase the stretch each time and end by sitting tall. The Spine Stretch Forward articulates the spine improving your posture while stretching the back of your legs.
Credits: Pictures by Paola Bassanese, model Danielle Kleber.
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