As a beginner to Pilates it is necessary to learn the basic fundamental movements that form the basis for classic Pilates exercises. Understanding each position is necessary for your safety and precision to be able to progress to more advanced Pilates exercises. These are the basic movements, which develop core strength and flexibility. From these basic positions you establish torso stability, pelvic stability, engaging the abdominals, proper alignment of the spine, and an increased range of motion. Pilates is functional fitness, which allows for better posture and movement in your daily life. All of these fundamental Pilates movements start from a neutral position of the spine where you are lying with your back on a mat. During the fundamentals of Pilates you begin to develop a sequential breathing, which allows you to flow through each exercise. The breathing rhythm is vital to the precision of each exercise and to get an overall benefit from each movement. These fundamental exercises can be used as a warm up for more advanced Pilates or other types of exercise programs as well.
1. Imprinting- Imprinting is the best way to relax and get centered before beginning a Pilates workout or any workout for that matter. It lengthens and relaxes the spine making movement easier, allowing a flow from one position to the next. Although imprinting is relaxing, it rejuvenates the mind and relieves stress so there is nothing impeding your ability to complete your workout. To start lay on a mat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides. Keep your spine neutral by allowing your back to rest comfortably with its natural curves. Now relax, your whole body. Let your weight release down towards the floor. Only use as much energy that is needed to hold up your knees in a bent position. Visualize the imprint that your body is making into the mat. Breath deeply to lengthen your spine and open up the disc space between your vertebrae. The object is to allow your body to relax evenly so the imprint of your body in the mat would be perfectly balanced. Stay in this position for 5 minutes while you continue with deep breathing.
2. Neutral Spine- Finding your neutral spine is where the three curves of your spine are in their most natural position. To do this lay on your back on a mat with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides. Inhale completely, then exhale and use your abs to press your lower spine into the floor. This is called a flat back. Inhale and release your back. Exhale and pull your spine up creating an arch in the low back. Inhale and release. When you release from both the flat back and the arch your spine should go into a natural position creating a neutral spine.
3. Head Nod- The head nod lengthens and extends the spine. Many Pilates exercises incorporate this type of bending and rolling movement, therefore the head nod is essential to Pilates exercises. Begin in your neutral position on a mat. Inhale to lengthen the spine, and tilt the chin down toward your chest. Don’t allow your head to come off of the mat as you move. Exhale and return to neutral position. Inhale and tip your head back as far as you can without straining. Exhale and release to neutral position.
4. Arms Reach- This exercise challenges the body to remain in alignment while in motion. By starting in the neutral position, inhale and bring your arms up above the body with your fingers pointed at the ceiling. On the exhale bring your arms back behind your head to the floor. This stretches the muscles of the shoulders and upper back while increasing the range of motion. Inhale and bring your arms back above the body with your fingers pointed at the ceiling. Exhale and release your arms back down to your sides. Remember to control the movement of your arms and don’t let momentum or gravity control your arms.
5. Snow Angel- Along with the previous arm exercise, this exercise aims to keep the torso and spine in alignment while the arms are in motion. It also engages the muscles of the arms, shoulders, abdominals and back. While in neutral position inhale and bring your arms out from to the side of your body and up next to your ear. Exhale and return your arms back to your sides. (This motion is exactly the way your arms move when doing a snow angel.)
6. Pelvic Curl- This exercise engages the abdominals, back and leg muscles. From neutral position, inhale a deep breath. As you exhale engage the abdominal muscles and push your bellybutton down towards your spine. Press your lower back flat against the floor. Inhale and press down through your feet pushing your tailbone, hips, low back and middle back off the floor. Lift until you come to rest on your shoulders and they are in a straight line with your hips. Your abdominals and hamstrings should support you while you are holding this position. Do not arch any higher or droop any lower because it could result in injury. As you exhale, use your abdominals to control your body as you roll back down to the floor, starting with your upper back, all the way down to your tailbone. Inhale and release your spine to neutral position.
7. Knee Folds- Our legs are so important because they hold up the rest of the body. Starting from a neutral spine position, inhale and use your abdominal muscles to lift one leg off the floor, bringing your knee back towards your chest, making a deep fold in the hp. Exhale and return your foot to the floor. Remember to maintain abdominal control of the leg rather than allowing gravity to pull the foot and leg back to the ground.
8. Swan-The swan exercises prepare the back for extension exercises by engaging the abdominals for support. The swan exercise extends the body backwards rather than forwards, which expands the chest and. To begin lie face down on a mat and bend your arms underneath your shoulders and body. Contract your abdominals, which should pull your stomach up off the floor. Maintain your abdominal engagement as you inhale and press your hands on the mat to lengthen the spine. Lift your head so your upper body creates a long upward arc. Exhale as you sequentially lower your body back down to the mat- belly, ribs, chest, and shoulders. Remember to keep your abdominals engaged the whole way down.
9. Wall Roll-The wall roll stretches the spine while engaging the abs. The wall roll uses the wall as a tool to promote proper posture. Find a wall that you can stand next to. Stand straight up with your back against the wall. While leaving your back against the wall move your feet 6-10 inches out in front of you away from the wall. Contract your abdominals and raise your arms straight up over your head. Keep your arms parallel to your ears. Slowly begin to roll your body down starting with your head then neck, each part of your body rolling sequentially away from the wall. Roll down as far as you can without your hips leaving the wall. Keep your head and neck relaxed. Begin to return you body upward the same way you rolled down, returning on portion of the body to the wall at a time. Really using your lower abdominals to pull your body upward. Keep your arms by your ears the same way they were on the roll down.