Pilates has taken the fitness world by storm over the last decade. Everyone from footballers to dancers swears by the physical and mental benefits of this exercise technique. It was conceived in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, who began to develop the yoga-like moves to help rehabilitate WWI soldiers. The techniques were then modified for dancers, giving way to the modern-day method that’s still practised today.
While purists believe Pilates should be taught without any modification, different branches have developed while still adhering to the basic principles of breathing, focus and fluidity of movement. The major difference in styles being the sequencing of exercises, the addition of props, as well as the focus on particular areas of the body.
Lengthen and Stretch with Pilates
Emma Willox takes us through five basic moves will help you to improve flexibility, gain core strength and centre your body. If performed consistently, the health benefits of these ‘powerhouse’ moves can be enjoyed for years to come.
Lie on your mat with legs extended to a diagonal position, arms behind your head. Inhale and reach your arms towards the ceiling. Exhale and roll up through your spine to balance just off your sit bones. Reaching your arms forward, inhale. Reach your arms up, exhale and roll back down. If you’re doing this exercise for the first time you can start off with both feet on floor, knees bent, hip-width apart before progressing up to this version. Repeat three to five times.
Lying down, bring shoulders off the floor. Extend legs up; reach out to touch above the knees. Inhale for two counts then exhale as you bring one leg towards you, while lowering other leg to just above mat. Inhale, bring legs back towards the ceiling so they pass each other mid-air. Exhale as you bring opposite leg down. Repeat 8-10 times.
Lying down, bring shoulders off floor. Bring legs together and up; bend knees and point toes. Place hands behind head and inhale. Exhale as you extend one leg out, toes pointed; simultaneously rotate upper body toward flexed knee – bent elbow should be in line with knee. Inhale, return to start position. Repeat 8-10 times on each side.
Start in a plank position, weight on balls of feet and arms in line with shoulders. Inhale as you take one foot off the ground and bring leg up behind you. Exhale as you shift body back, pointing toes back – keep hips level and square. Inhale and shift body forward, relaxing your lifted ankle. Lower leg to mat. Do 3-6 reps each side.
Scissors in the Air
Lie on your back, knees bent. Bring legs up, knees bent. Point toes to ceiling. Exhale and lift hips off the floor, pressing shoulders into the mat. Bring hands to your waist to support back. Keep neck lengthened and the weight on your arms. Bend one leg so toes point forward, bring other knee and point toes to ceiling. Hold for five breaths. Swap.
Fitness by Emma Willox, Words by Efrosini Costa, Photography by Mel Koutchavlis