Take Your Pilates to the Next Level

Pilates is a great series of exercises designed by Joseph Pilates, whose work was long embraced by dancers, acrobats and more-traditional athletes. It’s a system designed to stretch, strengthen and balance the entire body. And Pilates is for virtually everyone-from the super-fit to the softened weekend warrior. It can even help people recover from injuries. Once you’re comfortable with Pilates, here are some things to keep in mind.

Getting More from Your Pilates:

Breath. Pilates-style breathing is often called "diaphragmatic" breathing. When you inhale, your ribs should move upward and outward; when you exhale, the abdominals should move out and the ribs pull in. It’s also important when you do your inhalations and exhalations during class. A certified teacher will be sure you’re doing them correctly, but generally the exhalations will be upon exertion and the inhalations will be on movements that are less difficult. It gets oxygen to the muscles at the right time, helps cleanse the body and strengthens abdominal muscles.

Concentration. You can get much more out of your workout if you concentrate on each muscle. For example, when you are doing the criss-cross abdominal exercise, if you focus on the individual side oblique muscle as you rotate, you will feel each one engage at the correct time. It will work the muscle more deeply and give you better results, faster.

Control. Make sure you’re doing the exercise properly and with control. There should be no jerking or desperate straining. If you can’t keep the right form for each exercise, take a break or move to a more basic level as instructed by your teacher.

Back. Keep your back flat at all times when you’re doing exercises on the floor. If your back starts to arch, you need to adjust either leg position or abdominal engagement to make it flat again.

Feet. Think ballet dancer. Your heels should be together, tops of the inner thighs pressed together and toes pointed outward. This is a definite must during leg exercises that you do lying down on the mat and for many of the standing exercises.

Neck. Keep your neck long. Don’t scrunch, even when the ab work is getting tough!

Throughout the Rest of the Day:

Proper Posture. Keep your hips squarely underneath you, back straight, abs in, shoulders back, neck long and head facing forward.

Even Balance. Be certain you don’t shift your weight onto one leg, rock back and forth, or walk unevenly on your feet. You want to be perfectly balanced from side to side and front to back.

Engage Core. Pull your abs up and in, almost like you’re bracing for someone to punch you in the stomach. It may be hard to maintain this at first, but just keep trying. It will eventually become second nature.

Breathe Fully. Keep expanding your lungs laterally, not just out, when you breathe.

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