Pilates Essential Exercises

SUPINE HOME POSITION

Placement: Lie on your back with your knees flexed, feet flat on the floor. Knees should be aligned with our hips, ankles aligned with our heels. Arms at the sides of the body, keeping the big toe in contact with the floor.

Anchor Points:

            Feet

            Sacrum

            Lower Ribs

            Scapulae

            Base of the Skull

Cues: Allow your body to sink into each of the anchor points.  Feel the surface and weight of the soles of the feet, base of the spine (sacrum), lower ribs, back of the shoulders and the base of the skull.

BREATHING EXERCISES

Placement: Supine Home Position

  1. Relaxed Breath (belly breathing) – Place one hand on the belly near the diaphragm, other hand on the upper chest. Inhale into the abdomen while imagining filling the torso up from the bottom of the pelvis.  Sense movement in the lower hand before any movement in the upper hand. As you exhale you should feel the hand on the abdomen sinking towards the spine.
  2. Diaphragmatic Breath (rib breathing) – Place your hands on the latera ribs. Emphasize breathing into sides of ribcage to evenly expand the circumference of the lower ribs. Send the breath into the hands.  Exhale with an opened mouth, fogging a mirror with your breath.  As you exhale you will feel the hands moving towards the center of the body.
  3. One Lung Breathing – Place your hands on the lower ribs and feel one side expand as you inhale and visualize sending the air into just one lung.
  4. Sniffing Breath – inhale in 2 to 3 small breaths through the nose as if taking small sips of air. The exhale is done from the belly, similar to diaphragmatic exhale.

CORE ACTIVATION (A.K.A. CO-CONTRACTION)

Placement: Home  Position

  1. Pelvic Floor Contraction – The Pelvic Floor (a.k.a. Pelvic Diaphragm) is comprised of four muscles that form the floor of the pelvis, somewhat like a hammock.  This hammock spans from four points: the pubic bone, tail bone (coccyx) and the sitz bones (ischial tuberosities). When the pelvic floor is relaxed, the hammock hangs slacked.  When the pelvic floor is contracted, the muscles become toned and draw up towards the center of the pelvic floor, bringing all 4 points closer together creating a narrowing of the pelvic floor. To contract the pelvic floor, on your exhale imagine you are drawing the pelvic bones closer together and up through the center of the 4 points. Be careful not to engage the glutes.
  2. Transverse Abdominis (TA) Contraction – To feel the TA, place fingertips just medial to the ASIS, (The TA wraps horizontally around the trunk. It attaches on the rim of the pelvis and into the thoracic lumbar fascia, ribs and diaphragm) contract the pelvic floor as above and also imagine you are drawing your hip bones closer together.
  3. Co-Contraction – Combination of the pelvic floor contraction and the TA contraction.
  4. Multifidi (also found in Long Bridges) – The multifidi are located at the sacrum and transverse processes of lumbar through cervical vertebrae.  The thick multifidi are directly accessible in the lumbar spine. They are the only muscles with fibers that lie across the posterior surface of the sacrum. See “Long Bridges” for contraction.

Helpful Tools to be applied to seated and standing:

1. Blue Belt

2. Towel and Thera Band

3. Blood Pressure Cuff

4. Oppositional Stability

NEUTRAL PELVIS

  1. Standing - The placement of the pelvis is “considered” to be in neutral when the anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS) and the pubic bone are in a plane perpendicular to the ground in standing or sitting . Contraindications – It is not always the best position for certain Pilates exercises (lowering the legs from 90 degrees of hip flexion toward the floor, as in 100's and Double Straight Leg Stretch). Neutral is also not appropriate from some clients with low back injuries. The following two positions can be helpful for the above contraindications:
     Imprinted Spine – To imprint the spine, engage the abdominals and tilt the pelvis as far as possible without engaging any other muscles (ie. glutes)
     Supported Neutral – If you have an exaggerated lumbar curve (lordosis), a limited amount of  lumbar flexion or an injury that makes flexion contraindicated, the low back can be supported      by placing a lumbar roll, rolled up towel or rolled up sticky mat under the low back.
  2. Side-Lying – In a side-lying position it is ideal to keep the spine as straight as possible and both shoulders and both hips facing forward.
  3. Sitting – In a seated position you should be able to balance directly on top of the sitz bones with the pelvis neutral, ribs over the hips and the head over the ribs.
  4. All Fours – On all fours you should line the shoulders up over the wrists, the hips over the knees and keep the low back and pelvis in neutral position with the head in line with the spine.

PELVIC MOBILITY

Placement: Home Position

  1. 12 o'clock/ 6 o'clock – Exhale, co-contract, curl the pubic bone towards the belly button, rolling the ASIS back towards the floor (12 o'clock). Inhale going back to neutral. Exhale, co-contract, making the tailbone heavy towards the floor.l
  2. 3 o'clock/9 o'clock – Exhale, draw (L) ASIS down to the mat and (R)ASIS up towards ceiling (3 o'clock). Inhale return to Home Position. Exhale, draw (R)ASIS down to the mat and (L)ASIS up towards the ceiling (9 o'clock). Inhale and return to the Home Position.
  3. Around the World – Breathe continuously through this exercise maintaining a co-contraction. Begin by moving the pelvis into 12, then 3, then 6, then 9 o'clock. The pelvis is moving in a circular position.
  4. Sitz Bone Reaches – Exhale, co-contract, reach right sitz bone towards right heel, un-leveling the pelvis. Inhale and return to the Home Position. Exhale and repeat the movement on the other side.

**Blood Pressure Cuff (aka. Jooey Cuff)

LUMBOPELVIC STABILITY

Lumbopelvic stability means keeping the pelvis and the low back stable and in balance while moving. It is an important concept for low back safety and awareness during exercise and everyday life. Exercises to teach Lumbopelvic stability are found in the following Knee Fold Series:

Placement: Home Position

  1. Single Leg – Exhale, co-contract and lift knee to ceiling (table-top position). Inhale, hold knee up while stabilizing pelvis. Exhale and lower foot to the floor.
  2. Alternate Legs – Exhale and lift one leg to the ceiling (table-top position). Inhale and hold the position.  Exhale; lift other leg to the ceiling. Inhale and hold. Exhale and lower the 1st leg. Inhale and hold. Exhale and lower 2nd leg.
  3. Marching – Feel equal pressure on the back of the pelvis.  Exhale, Co-contract and lift one foot off the floor. Inhale and hold. Exhale lower the 1st leg down at the same time the 2nd leg is lifting. Sniffing inhale and hold. Alternate legs.
  4. Toe Taps (Double Legs) – Begin in table top position, feet flexed, Exhale and reach one heel to the floor. Sniffing inhale. Exhale and alternate legs. Placement: Quadruped (heels of the hands under the shoulders, knees under hips, neutral pelvis and spine)
  5. Opposite Arm and Leg Reach – Reach one arm and the opposite leg away from the center of the body at the same time while maintaining the position of the spine.

EXERCISES TO INCREASE SPINAL MOBILITY AND STRENGTH:

Placement: Quadruped

A. Cat/Camel  (Cat/Cow, Arch/Curl) - Exhale, co-contract and allow the tailbone to release down towards the mat. Focus the eyes on the abdomen to keep the head in line with the spine. Hold position for one inhale. Exhale, reach the tailbone away from the head, arching the spine and changing the focus of the eyes to the top of the wall in front of you. Don't allow the ribs to drop towards the floor.

B. Hip Circles - Move the hips in a circle working to loosen up each part of the spine. Allow the head to move in coordination with the spine.

C. Tail Wag - With both knees on the mat, lift one foot off the floor. Rotate the foot from side to side and follow it with your eyes to lead your spine into lateral flexion. Repeat with the opposite foot.

D. Bridges

Placement: Supine Home Position

1. Articulating Bridge (Curved Back Bridging) – Exhale, co-contract, hollow the abdominals and curl the tailbone up towards the ceiling to sequentially one vertebra at a time to your scapulae anchor point. Inhale; stay lifted in the bridge position. Exhale; roll down through the spine one vertebra at a time.

2. Neutral Bridge (Flat Back Bridging) – Exhale, co-contract, hollow the abdominals and lift the pelvis up into the bridge position maintaining neutral position. Inhale, stay lifted in the bridge. Exhale releasing the hip joints and returning the hips back to the floor.

3. Side Shifting & Rotating Bridge – Exhale, co-contract, hollow the abdominals and curl the tailbone up towards the ceiling to sequentially one vertebra at a time to your scapulae anchor point. Inhale, pause. Exhale, lower one vertebrae and shift the spine side to side.  Lower the next vertebrae and do the same.  Continue this the whole way down hitting at least 5 spots along the spine. *Do this same exercise with rotating down vs shifting down.

4. Long BridgePlacement: Home Position with a long a long leg and a slight bend in the knee.

Exhale, co-contract, hollow the abdominals and lift the pelvis up into the bridge position maintaining neutral position. Inhale, stay lifted in the bridge. Exhale releasing the hip joints and returning the hips back to the floor.

5. Typewriter/ Hip Drops – With the hips in the elevated in the bridge position, move the hips in one of the following ways: Typewriter – Move the hips from side to side keeping the hips level. Hip Drops – Drop on hip and then the other allowing the spine to rotate.

6. Single Leg Lift Bridges Position: Neutral Bridge

a. Knee Fold – Exhale, co-contract and stabilize the pelvis and ribcage from all sides of the body. Inhale; lift one knee to 90 degrees hip flexion. Exhale, lower the foot to the mat. Repeat alternating knees.

b. Knee Extension – Exhale, co-contract and stabilize the pelvis and ribcage from all sides of the body. Inhale, extend one leg maintaining the degree of hip extension of the bridge. (Knees stay level). Exhale; return the foot to the floor. Exhale and extend the opposite leg. Repeat alternating legs.

c. Leg Lowers - Exhale, co-contract and stabilize the pelvis and ribcage from all sides of the body. Inhale, extend one leg maintaining the degree of hip extension of the bridge. (Knees stay level). Exhale, lower whole leg. Inhale, lift leg to knee extension position. Repeat 3 times. Exhale, flex the knee and return foot to the floor. Inhale, extend knee to knee extension position and repeat on the other side. Exhale, flex the knee and return the foot to the floor. Roll down to neutral position.

E. Seated Spinal Movements:

  1.  Flexion/Extension – Exhale, stabilize and lengthen the spine. Hold, inhale. Exhale, arch the spine in a balanced position. Inhale, come back to neutral. Exhale, curl the spine in a balanced curl.
  2. Rotation – Exhale, stabilize and lengthen the spine. Inhale rotate maintaining your length. Exhale, come back to center and repeat to the other side.
  3. Side Bending – Exhale, stabilize and lengthen the spine. Inhale and hold.  Exhale, create a small shift left to side bend right.  Inhale, lengthen back up to neutral and repeat to the other side.

F. Back and Hip Extension Exercises:

  1. Prone Arm Reaches (Chest lift) – Placement: Prone Home Position (arms at the side, palms down). Movement: Exhale, co-contract, draw scapulae down and wide on the back, float the shoulders and chest slightly off the floor; maintain head in alignment with the rest of the spine.  Inhale, sustain the co-contraction and lengthen through the spine in the lifted position. Exhale, and return to prone home position.
  2. Leg Lifts (hip extension) – Placement: same as above except place the backside of your hands under your forehead, relaxing shoulders down your back.
  3. Movement: Exhale, co-contract, draw one leg long out of the hip socket and lift off the floor.  Inhale, sustain the co-contraction and avoid shortening in the lower back. You want to feel an opening through the front of the hip joint. Exhale, and return to prone home position.
  4. Full Body Lift I  - Placement: Prone Home Position
  5. Movement: Exhale, co-contract, and combine movements Prone Arm Reaches and Leg Lifts. Hold the position for 3 breaths. Exhale, and return to prone home position.
  6. Full Body Lift II - Placement: Same as 2. Leg Lifts
  7. Movement: Exhale, co-contract, and combine movements Prone Arm Reaches and Leg Lifts. Hold the position for 3 breaths. Exhale, and return to prone home position.
  8. Mini Swan – Placement: Prone Home Position except the hands are reaching over the head with the little finger on the mat.
  9. Movement: Exhale, co-contract, draw scapulae down and wide on the back, float the shoulders and chest slightly off the floor; maintain head in alignment with the rest of the spine.  Inhale, sustain the co-contraction and lengthen through the spine in the lifted position. Exhale, and return to prone home position.

SCAPULAR STABILITY AND MOBILITY

A. Scapula ReachesPlacement:  Home position with your hands raised above your chest, fingertips reaching up to the ceiling and your palms facing each other.

Movement: Inhale, reach right arm toward the ceiling with scapulae wide on the back, externally rotating arm, as if you were screwing in a light bulb.  (Your pinky finger will rotate toward your midline). Exhale, internally rotate right arm as if you were unscrewing the light bulb as the shoulder returns back to the floor. Repeat the movement on the left arm. Alternate this movement while maintaining the opposite shoulder down.

Verbal Cues: Remember to keep the intent of the movement coming from under the scapula and armpit; feel the connection of the pinky side of the arm to the tip of the scapula.

B. Rotating ArmsPlacement: Home position with your arms reaching out to your sides, perpendicular to your torso with palms facing up to the ceiling (“T” Position).

Movement: Inhale, internally rotate right arm, turning palm to floor as head turns to the left.  Exhale; internally rotate your left arm as you externally rotate your right arm, turning head to right in one fluid motion. Continue alternating rotation of arms with each breath.

Verbal Cues:  Initiate movement form the head of the humerus and allow it to spiral down the arm to the hand. Roll across the upper back to shift the weight toward the externally rotated shoulder.

C. Ribcage Arms – Placement: Same as scapula reaches.  Movement: Exhale (co-contract), maintain the rib point anchor while arms (straight) float overhead. Inhale; hold the arms away from the floor. Exhale, slide scapulae down the back returning the arms to the starting position.

Verbal Cues: Maintain length between your xyphoid and pubic bone; maintain rib pint anchor throughout exercise.

D. Angles in the Snow  - Placement: Same as Rotating Arms

Movement: (1) Inhale, sliding one arm along the floor towards your head as the other arm slides down towards your hips.

(2) Add the head looking toward the arm that is moving down.

Verbal Cues: Move as smoothly as possible through the full range of motions and coordinate the rotation of the hips, torso and head.

E. Frontal Plane Arm Circles - Placement: Sit cross legged on top of sitz bones with spine lifted, ribcage and head directly over pelvis (seated in plumb line position). Shoulders abducted to 90 degrees and elbows flexed to 90 degrees (stick'em up arms)

Movement: Adduct scapula, elevate scapula, abduct scapula, depress scapula. Repeat 3 times. Verbal Cues: Lead the movement with your scapulae, not with your elbows; keep width across the shoulders; do not allow the shoulders to roll forward.

F. Sternum Drop (Protraction/Retraction) - Placement: Quadruped

Movement: Exhale and drop the sternum down towards the floor as the scapulae adduct toward the spine (retraction). Inhale and elevate the sternum away from the floor, pulling your scapulae wide on your ribcage without rounding your upper spine (protraction).  Try to keep your shoulders and upper trapezius muscles relaxed.  Repeat 3 times.

Verbal Cues: Draw the sternum away from the floor by pressing the heels of the hands into the floor, all the while maintaining dynamic home position.

G. Wall Push Up - Placement: Standing in front of the wall with arms distance away from the wall. Palms on the wall standing in a dynamic neutral position.

Movement: Inhale, bend the elbows and lower the torso towards the wall while maintaining a straight torso.

Verbal Cues: Do not change the dynamic home position. Do not allow the scapulae to move towards the spine (retraction). Stabilize the scapulae wide on the ribcage and flex and extend the triceps.  Keep the sternum between the hands.

H. Push Up (Stability) - Placement: Quadruped except knees at 45º hip flexion with dynamic neutral pelvis and spine.

Movement: Inhale and flex the elbows to lower the spine toward the floor keeping scapula wide on the rib cage. Exhale and extend the elbows, lifting the spine away from the floor. Repeat 3 times.

Verbal Cues: Do not change the dynamic home position. Do not allow the scapulae to move towards the spine (retraction). Stabilize the scapulae wide on the ribcage and flex and extend the triceps.  Keep the sternum between the hands; do not shift forward or back.

I. Side Bridge - Placement: Side lying on the right side, one elbow on the mat flexed to 90º and placed directly under the shoulders. Forearms are pronated and the shoulder s in a dynamic neutral position.  The pelvis is stacked in a level position, knees bent 90º and slightly in front of the hips.

Movement: Exhale and lift the trunk off the mat in a side plank position, weight bearing on the elbow and shin. Hold for 3 breaths. Exhale and return to the start position.  Repeat 3 times on each side.

Verbal Cues: Press the forearm into the floor to lift the trunk away. Hips, ribs and shoulders stacked over each other, avoiding rotation. Watch for head position in alignment of the spine.

RELEASE WORK

Neck Release:

Skull Clock – Placement: Supine home position or dynamic neutral seated or standing.

Movement: (1) Circles - Draw small circles with the nose in both directions.

(2) Side to Side – Move the head side to side while maintaining relaxed shoulders.

(3) Up and Down – Move the head up and down while maintaining relaxed shoulders.

Verbal Cues: Imagine you have a paint brush on the end of your nose and draw circles or lines with your nose. Imagine you are keeping the back of the neck long at all times.

Hip and Low Back Releases:

A. Knee Stirs - Placement: Supine Home Position except right knee is lifted into flexion, towards the ceiling. Place right hand on right knee with elbow fully extended.  Place a posterior downward pressure onto the femur so that the weight of the femur drops into the back of the hip joint (acetabulum)

Movement: Circle (stir) the femur in the hip socket three times, maintain co-contraction with pelvic stability. Reverse direction of the circles. Repeat with the other leg. Can also be done with both legs.

Verbal Cues: Visualizing the deep socket and the head of the femur massaging the entire surface of the acetabulum.

Modification: Use a towel or belt behind the thigh if arm does not reach.

B. Hip Releases - Placement: Supine Home Position

Movement: Exhale, and allow the knee to fall toward the mat (external rotation) and the lateral side of the foot makes contact with the floor. Inhale and slide the foot and leg out straight in line with the sitz bones (neutral alignment). Exhale and slide the foot up using the psoas to pull the femur and foot up to the starting position. Keep the pelvis stable throughout the exercise. Repeat 3 times. Repeat the entire movement with the other leg.

Verbal Cues: Feel the head of the femur bone sink down toward the mat and without effort circle in the hip socket.

C. Knee Drops - Placement: Home Position with feet and knees together. Arms in the “T” Position.

Movement: Inhale and let your knees drop slowly to the side, the pelvis will follow. Exhale as you return the pelvis back to the starting position by pulling the sacrum back to the floor keeping the abdominals pulled wide across the hip bones.  Do not let your legs power or drive the movement. Maintain the length between the hips and the ribs.

Verbal Cues:  Draw your sacrum back into the floor.  Let your legs linger behind the movement of the pelvis.

D. Spinal Rotation - Placement: Sitting cross legged on top sitz bones with spine lifted, ribcage and directly over pelvis. (Seated plumb line position)

Movement: Inhale and lengthen your head and tail away from each other (narrowing) and rotate your spine and ribcage to the right. Place your right hand on the mat behind you and your left hand on your right knee.  Exhale and draw your abdominals in toward your spine and rotate further into the stretch. Inhale and lengthen through the spine increasing the rotation.  Exhale, deepening your abdominal contraction and rotate back to center using the internal and external obliques. Repeat to the other side.

Verbal Cues: Keep your weight equal on the sitz bones throughout the movement; increase the rotation in the spine similar to twisting a towel. Maintain the lift of the spine throughout the movement.

E. Roll Back - Placement: Seated plumb line position with knees flexed and feet together. Hands in a fist position with thumb sides together placed inside the thighs just above the knee joint; squeeze the fists between inner thighs, shoulders down and relaxed. An alternative to the fist could be a ball placed between the inner theighs.

Movement: Exhale, co-contract and sequentially roll back through the spine vertebra by vertebra.  Roll down through the spine as long as you can keep the base of the big toes reaching into the floor. Inhale and hold the position. Exhale, reactivate the co-contraction, rolling up through the spine to the starting position. Repeat 3 times.

Verbal Cues: Initiate this movement from the tail bone feeling like your sacrum is sliding toward your hills. Feel the opening of the anterior hip joint.  Imagine your spine is a string of pearls and you are lowering the pearls to the ground one by one creating space between each pearl.