There are very few people on Earth who would not benefit from adding some Pilates to their day. If you’re training to improve your sporting performance, want to lift more in the weights room, are rehabbing an injury or simply trying to avoid ever picking any up, Pilates can help. And that’s not all.
“We train a bunch of sportspeople and athletes who use classical Pilates to enhance their current training regime and limit injuries, as well as office workers, gym-goers, beginners, those looking to lose weight, get stronger and improve their mental health, and everyone in between,” says Gaby Noble, owner of Exhale Pilates London (opens in new tab).
“Men in particular traditionally work their muscles in isolation a lot, while classical Pilates has a flow to it, mobilising the joints through every exercise. This different way of training is highly beneficial, making sure that you get a full-body workout and none of the smaller muscles get missed out.”
To help introduce Pilates into your weekly routine, we asked Noble for five exercises beginners can try at home.
Objective: To stretch your shoulders and upper back while strengthening your pelvis, shoulder extensors and back stabilisers.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and upper back elevated on one or two pillows (a foam roller can also be used). If you haven’t got too much tightness, then slightly drop your head off the back of the pillow to create more rotation in the shoulders. Hold either small weights or a bottle of water in each hand as you do the following three moves.
Move 1: Keeping your legs bent with your knees in line with your hips and your feet flat on the floor, extend your arms overhead with your palms facing. Inhale as you move your arms in an arc out to the sides and towards the floor. As you exhale, draw your abs into your spine and bring your arms back to the center. You can hug yourself to get a further stretch each time you bring your arms back. Do this three to five times, taking progressively deeper breaths while maintaining a stable pelvis and keeping your abs drawn into your back.
Move 2: Extend your arms overhead with your palms facing in the direction of your feet. Keeping your arms straight, inhale as you drop one hand behind your head and the other hand towards your hip. Exhale as you return to the starting position. Repeat the move but on the opposite sides. Do that sequence three to five times.
Move 3: Extend your arms overhead. Make large circles that take both your arms back to the side and then back to the center. Do this three to five times in each direction. Keep the range of motion comfortable – don’t overextend your shoulders.
Objective: To work your spine, stretch your quadriceps, and strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and in line with your hips, and your arms by your sides. Reach your fingers towards your toes and keep your chest open. Inhale and lift your pelvis off the floor, squeezing your glutes and moving your knees towards your feet to open up your hip flexors. Hold your breath for a count of three, then bring your spine back to the floor slowly, vertebrae by vertebrae, as you exhale. Make sure your bum is the last thing to touch the ground. Do this three to five times breathing progressively deeper each time to release further tightness in the hips, chest and spine.
Objective: To stretch and strengthen your thighs, as well as your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abs and hip flexors.
Kneel with your legs hip-width apart. Extend your arms out in front of your body at shoulder height, holding small weights if you like. Make sure your knees, hips, shoulders and ears are in line and there’s no arch in your lower back. Inhale, drawing your abs into your spine, and lean back, lengthening your spine so you feel like your body’s being extended through the crown of your head. Exhale and return to the starting position, bringing your arms back down to your sides. Do this three to five times, extending the stretch each time.
Objective: To strengthen your shoulder and elbow extensors, and develop trunk stability. It’s also beneficial for your posture, breathing and neck.
Kneel with your knees hip-width apart and arms by your sides. Create tension in your arms by drawing your fingers to the floor and lengthening your neck. Keeping a straight line from your knees to your ears and maintaining the length in your neck, inhale, draw your abs in and up and move your palms behind you, drawing your shoulder blades together. Keeping the rest of your body still, turn your head to the right, then left, then back to the centre. Exhale as you bring your arms back in line with your hips. Keep your glutes and abs engaged throughout the movement. Do three to five alternating head turns.
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Objective: To relax your neck and shoulders, and massage your spine.
Stand with your back and pelvis against a wall, and your feet about 30cm away from the wall. Push your spine against the wall without tucking or arching. If you find that’s too hard to do, bring your feet a little closer to the wall. Extend your arms in front of you, then circle them, inhaling as they go up and exhaling as they come down. Do this three to five times, then reverse the direction.
Draw your chin to your chest to stretch the back of your neck. Relax your head forwards as you slowly peel the spine off the wall, moving one vertebrae at a time. Keep your abs braced but everything else relaxed. Let the weight of your head and shoulders hang heavy. Go as far as you can while keeping your pelvis against the wall. Do one small circle with your torso like a rag doll and let the momentum move your arms for two more circles, then reverse the direction. Start rolling back up against the wall, one vertebrae at a time. Do this two to three times. To finish, press your hands into the wall and walk forward.
For more info on Exhale Pilates and to book in for a class, visit exhalepilateslondon.com (opens in new tab)
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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