Pilates Ball Exercises and Benefits

When you start your pilates ball exercises, you’ll wobble a bit, and that’s good, because you’re using all those deep wonderful stabilizing muscles. We have 2 categories of muscles, one mobilizing muscles such as the biceps and we have stabilizing muscles such as the transvers abdominals.

3 Great Reasons to Get Unstable!

1. Improved balance through improved stability

2. Increase awareness and strength in the hips. If you do sit-ups (or crunches) on the floor your hips remain in the same position and only allow you to flex your torso forward. However, if you do sit-ups on the ball, your torso will also extend backwards and so increase the full range of the movement. You’re not as stable on a moving object forcing deeper stabilizing muscles to work

3. Improve flexibility. On the ball you can stretch you pecs, quads, hamstrings, hips, psoas, and abdominal obliques.

Your STOTT Pilates instructor can teach you exercises for your abs, arms and legs on the ball. With your instructor you will see the benefits above in addition to knowing that you are in the safe hands of a qualified instructor guiding you through the exercises with proper form and precision.

Importance of Spinal Extension


Extension of the spine is the opposite of flexion. From a terminology standpoint, it’s helpful to be specific. If the cue is “bend the spine” it could move in one of three directions. Forward (spine flexion), Backward (spine extension), or Sideways (lateral flexion). The other direction our spine moves is to rotate or twist. Normally “bending” means flexion, or moving the body forward towards the legs. Extension would be taking the body backwards in the opposite direction, OR un-bending.

A Back Out of Balance

Without active thought during daily life activities, we can lose the three natural curves of the spine, and all of a sudden our posture is well, kind of poor. Our head may be sitting forward on the neck from too many hours straining to look at a computer screen. Our shoulders and upper back may be hunched forward from slumping in our chairs, or spending all day doing things bending forward. After all, we really don’t do anything in daily life with our arms behind us. If the upper body slump becomes extreme it’s called kyphosis.

When we’re standing, we may get lazy and forget to maintain some support through the mid-section. With the abdominals hanging farther out to the front, the lower back will get pulled forward too, creating a more noticeable lumbar curve. If we become sway becomes extreme in the low back it’s called lordosis.

The body will strive for balance. If there’s too much going on at one end, it’s going to make some changes at the other end to compensate. Over time it will tell the brain that these changes were done to be in a normal, balanced position. At some point, the brain will accept the changes as the way it’s supposed to be, and voila. You now have a body that won’t fight for a better position, because it thinks it’s placed where it should be.

The Importance of Practicing Spine Extension

Spine extension is very important for posture and health. Since there is very little in life that we do bending backwards, taking time with exercise to move this direction can help keep our backs in balance. Ideally, every segment of the spine should move freely and easily in all directions. The real goal with good spine extension is to get the entire spine actively participating, which means the middle back has to learn how to extend – movement away from its natural curve. Practicing extension exercises also provides an opportunity to stretch and lengthen through the front of the body. In the long run this will help improve movement of the spine in all directions. A great quote from Joseph Pilates is, “A man is as young as his spinal column.” Practicing sequential, segmental spine extension will help keep you feeling young. Swan Lift Tips to Improve Your Technique (lay on your stomach, tip of the nose to the mat.)

1.Lengthen your spine as you inhale, before beginning to lift into extension. As you do this, pull the shoulder blades down towards your hips and it will be easier to feel this lengthening action.

2.Be sure the head doesn’t crank backwards causing the neck over extend. Let the head ride on the neck, start your lift from the base of the neck and work from the top downwards to the lower spine.

3.Feel the breastbone slide upward as the spine lifts, and slide downward as the spine lowers.

4.Work to feel even engagement with all the muscle close to the backbone, throughout the entire spine to hold your extension. (If anything, work to feel more in the upper back. Because it’s not as strong when moving in this direction – it may need a little extra effort to lift & hold you in this position.)

When you begin to push with your arms to lift higher, use the muscles in the back of the arm & shoulder and be sure that the upper back muscles are still engaged. (if the arms start working and the upper back lets go you’ll lose your extension where you need it the most.)

Frequently Asked Questions About Finding A Creditable Pilates Teacher

Q. I use Pilates books and videos at home, why should I participate in lessons at a Pilates Studio or Health Club?

A. Books and videos can be good tools to help you remember what you’re doing. However, nothing can replace the eye of a qualified and experienced Pilates teacher to help you understand the exercises and find the right muscles to do each exercise correctly. Books and videos will show you the basics of the exercises, but won’t help you become aware of the ways you’re cheating, or help to identify your bad habits and assist you in correcting them. Also, not every exercise is for every person. Following exactly what’s on a video may be dangerous for your body. Besides, just doing Matwork is only half of the system, so you’re missing out on half the benefits Pilates has to offer. Use of both the Pilates equipment and mat exercises is the ideal and best way to utilize the Pilates system.

A Qualified Pilates Teacher Can Help You:

•Find the right muscles to get the most benefit from the exercises.
•Learn how to modify or tweak the exercises for your body to be in safest position.
•Identify which exercises are appropriate for your body and which exercises you should skip or wait awhile before adding to your workout.

Q. How do I know if my Pilates instructor is a qualified teacher?

A. Pilates instructors must attend a series of workshops with a qualified certification and a qualified instructor trainer.

STOTT Pilates is a highly creditable certification body that requires written, practical and practice teaching and personal practice. A STOTT Pilates trained instructors attends rigorous workshops with extreme attention to detail.

To the uneducated consumer, without asking questions, you may not know if your teacher has the background and experience necessary to really help you get the most from your Pilates training experience. Here are a few questions you can ask:

1. Are the instructors trained through a comprehensive training program?

2. Did that training program require a written and practical test, lecture, observation, practice and apprentice hours?

3. How many total hours were spent in the training program?

4. Does the instructor have any other movement related teaching experience?

5. How long have the instructors been teaching Pilates?

6. What is the instructor’s / studio’s philosophy and specialty? Are they able to handle special needs, injuries and rehabilitation?

7. Does the instructor or studio teach the full repertoire of Pilates on all pieces of apparatus?

If you have other questions about qualified STOTT Pilates instructors contact Balance pilates, your local STOTT Pilates sudio at 804.340.1203.

Pilates to Strengthen Ankles

Winter sports such as skiing and snow boarding are tough on a part of the body we often forget about- the ankle. We forget until we injure them, that is. An ankle injury can really put a crimp in your winter fun.

Common foot and ankle injuries include:

•Strain- an injury to the tendon that connects the muscle to the bone
•Sprain- an injury to the ligament which holds two bones together
•Tendonitis- which is inflammation of the tendon that connects the muscle to the bone
•Stress fractures- which are tiny cracks in the bone due to repeated stress to the weight bearing bones

The soft tissue injuries like strain, sprain and tendonitis should all be treated with RICE: Rest Ice Compression Elevation.

Most of these injuries are due to over-use. There are things you can do to prevent them. First, make sure to warm up adequately, that doesn’t mean stretching but warming up your whole body with walking or full body movement.

And don’t forget about the ankles, some foot circles or pointing and flexing should do the trick. Second, begin the winter sports slowly. Likely, you haven’t been on skis or a board all year. Try to restrain yourself from jumping on the tough slopes first. Even if it feels good at the time, you are setting yourself up for potential injury. Start with an easy slope and build up gradually.

You can also use your pilates classes to train and strengthen the ankles. Sitting on the mat you can use a band around the ball of your foot to point and flex the foot. Then loop it around the top of your foot and anchor the two ends to something in front of you like a couch, then pull your toes towards you. The reformer has many leg and ankle exercises that specifically target the ankle and foot.

Balance exercises are important for the ankles too. Something simple you can do anywhere is just standing on one foot for a minute. This makes the ankles and lower legs work and is something most people don’t do enough. If you’ve had ankle injuries in the past, the time to make sure you don’t re-injure is before you start the activity. Have fun on the slopes!

Pilates Principle: Concentration

The Pilates principles are the foundation of the Pilates method and are what make the exercises so effective. Knowing and applying these principles to your workouts will help you to balance your body’s musculature, prevent injuries, and maximize the results of your workouts. The principle we’re going to focus on in this article is Concentration. Read on to find out why Joseph Pilates called his method the “thinking man’s workout.”

Rael Isacowitz, founder of Body Arts and Sciences International (BASI) divides this principle into two parts, awareness and concentration. He regards “awareness as a state of mind — of being mindful and feeling the movement” and concentration as “a more cognitive process of understanding the movement.” (Isacowitz, 9)

Awareness is the initial realization of the body, where it lies in space, how it moves, and any tightness, misalignment, weakness, habitual movement patterns or other imbalances that we may have developed throughout our lives. That initial awareness is critical to achieve a baseline from which to progress. Our muscles and joints contain proprioceptors that tell our brain where we are in space and how far a joint can move before injury. Over time, we train our proprioceptors to feel that misalignments and limited range of motion are correct and representative of our body’s full potential. In order to change those patterns, we must first become aware.

Concentration is viewed as the “bridge between awareness and movement” (Isacowitz, 9) Once you have established your baseline, it is essential to bring that same awareness into every movement. Checking in with your body periodically can help to develop your concentration. If you find yourself thinking about something other than your workout, scan your body, especially those places you are working to retrain, and notice if they are engaged, relaxed, stabilized, or moving as they should be in the exercise. By bringing your awareness and concentration to a particular muscle you facilitate the firing of that muscle. Where patterns exist, it can be difficult to work the correct muscle(s) even with intense concentration, but nearly impossible without that attention. If you don’t know what you should be focusing on in a particular exercise, ask your instructor.

Remember to keep it light, you can over-think things. If you become tense or frustrated, let it go. Do your best, you can always move on to another exercise, one that is easier or more familiar to your body, and return to the more challenging exercise later.

Isacowitz, Rael. (2006). Pilates:Your Complete Guide to Mat Work and Apparatus Exercises. Human Kinetics. Champaign, IL

Source: selfgrowth.com

Interested in Learning More About Pilates?

Are you interested in taking your pilates regimen to the next level? Below are the top books on pilates.

One of the most popular books about Pilates is The Pilates Body: The Ultimate At-Home Guide to Strengthening, Lengthening and Toning Your Body–Without Machines, written by Brooke Siler and presented in a way that makes it easy to access. The author trained with the protégé Joseph Pilates himself. The book is wonderfully organized. It offers tips and ways to build the perfect Pilates regimen for each individual. First, Siler discusses how to align your body and the ways to properly move your knees, neck and lower back. After reviewing the basics, she offers an array of over sixty exercises to kick start your home workout.

Conveniently, the exercises are divided among beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, so no matter where you fall, you will have a section that is perfect for you and offers you different exercises that will be neither too hard nor too easy. In addition to offering you inspiring exercises, she also includes a side blurb called the Inside Scoop which gives you even more information, little hints and tips that she had picked up from trainers and fellow Pilates peers that will perfect your skill and give you an extra boost of motivation. This book is essential for anyone striving to have an excellent Pilates experience.

Another popular book about the subject is Pilates: Body in Motion by Alycea Ungaro. An author who owns Real Pilates and has written many other books on the topic, the author has experience with training celebrities such as Madonna, Uma Thurman, and Christy Turlington. She also presents her work at fitness seminars and is part of the board of advisors for Fitness Magazine. Knowing her business, she offers a book that gives you a very nice and clear step-by-step guidebook that is great for someone who wants to work out without heavy equipment or machines. She also emphasizes how Pilates not only positively affects your entire body, but your whole mind. The workouts in her book are divided between beginner and advanced.

Pilates’ Return to Life Through Contrology, written by Joseph H. Pilates himself is another very popular book that gives you the basic origins of the entire exercise. Joseph Pilates details all of the instructions and poses and exercises so you know exactly what you are doing and what the point of it is. All of the exercises that he and Clara developed are in the book and you will get an elaborate expression of the balanced Body and Mind that he emphasizes. You will learn about body mechanics and the correct posture so you can be sure that you are doing the exercises properly and without flaws or errors. You will be able to make sure that you are doing the right breathing exercises and procedures all in the name of balancing body and mind and bettering your overall fitness.

Source: selfgrowth.com

The Pilates Reformer

Pilates has become is continues to be a craze in health and fitness, and for good reason. The benefits include increased strength, balance and speed. As well as increasing core strength and decreasing back and neck pain. The most common piece of equipment used in Pilates is the Pilates reformer.

The pilates reformer was created by Joseph Pilates in the early 1920’s as a way to help rehabilitate injured soldiers in hospital. He would connect springs and ropes to the beds, and soldiers would exercises while they were injured, speeding up their recovery.

The Pilates reformer is basically a padded platform on rails that is connected to a series of springs for resistance. You lie on your back on the platform, and perform leg exercises using the bar and the straps. Arm exercises are performed using ropes and pulleys while sitting or kneeling on the platform.

The Pilates reformer is versatile. There are literally hundreds of arm, leg, lower back and abdominal exercises that can be performed on them. It is advisable to work with a certified pilates instructor to learn how to properly perform exercises on the pilates reformer. Some of the exercises are challenging and if not performed correctly may lead to injury.

There are many benefits for using the reform. The first being improved posture. You will learn how to strengthen and engage the muscles required for the perfect sitting and standing posture. This is vital for anyone with a computer or clerical job. The next benefit is improved core abdominal strength. This will help prevent back pain, or ease pain if you already have problems with your lower back. You will burn fat and speed up your metabolism and generally you will have more energy and feel better throughout the day.

Since the reformer came on the market, additional Pilate’s equipment has been developed to further increase the challenges of Pilates exercises. They include the Pilates Cadillac, chair and barrel. Many Pilate’s studies incorporate all four in the Pilates workouts.

If you are a fan of Pilates and want to challenge you body further, the Pilates reformer is for you. It will be the perfect progression from you current mat routine.

The Six Principles of Pilates

Pilates focuses on six basic principles that aim for a holistic mind-body awareness, balance and improvement. Here are the core foundation based on Joseph Pilates’ philosophy of the Art of Contrology:

Focuses on the body’s center/ core – between the lower ribs and pubic bone

Brings full attention to each movement

Maintains complete muscular control in every movement

Sustains awareness throughout each movement to keep proper placement and alignment of body parts

Uses full, well-coordinated breathing while doing the exercises

Keeps a fluid, graceful and even manner in each movement

If you want to achieve a stronger, longer, leaner, more flexible, and a more balanced body – without straining your muscles, then join a Pilates class for your holistic development.

Methods for Enhancing the Side Leg Exercises

One of the most difficult challenges when doing the Pilates mat work side leg series exercises is keeping the body completely still while swinging the leg. Many of the Pilates Mat exercises that are done before you get to the side leg series will help you prepare to lie balanced on your side and still be able to hold a solid position.

Here are 5 things you can practice to help keep your body still and improve the free swing of your leg on all of the hip and leg exercises in this series:

1. Practice the side leg series exercises with your back pressed against a wall. Make an effort to keep everything from the top of your head to your waist against the wall while moving your leg for through little circles, front and back lifts.

2. Maintain your eye focus straight ahead. There’s a tendency to want to look at the legs move. Whenever you are look at your legs, it shifts your head, neck, and torso position out of tall posture. Keep looking straight ahead and maintain a tall/long body position. Try to “feel” what’s happening in your body, instead of watch your leg move while you’re working.

3. Keep an active pelvic floor. Particularly the pubic bone to tailbone connection. The entire torso should be aligned along the back edge of the mat this means a slight arch/neutral pelvis position. This will actually make it easier to hold the pelvis still while moving the leg. Be sure that you tailbone is not swinging forward and back with your leg.

4. Use your abs to slightly lift and support the side of your abdomen that Is closest to the ground. When you’re lying on your right side, the right side of your abs pulling up and in. You should be able to place your hand between your lifted abs and the mat.

5. Keep strong shoulder depression. Keep the shoulders stacked vertically, and actively pull the left shoulder downward. This keeps the shoulders still, and provides a well-balanced anchor so that the hips and legs can lengthen away from the center for a better leg swing.

Upper Body Movement

Think about how you started learning the hundred. With your pilates instructor focus on improving articulation of the upper back for the Roll Up, Teaser and Neck Pull – These are not easy exercises for most beginners and even for some intermediate level Pilates clients.

If you begin to focus on how you execute these exercises, is your movement smooth, sequential articulation of the spine – in which case the exercises are easy. Or does your head lead meaning the likely place the body bends next is at the waist. When this happens, the upper body is moving as a “chunk.” Instead of the chest and upper back muscles releasing to allow the breastbone soften to help the front of the body bend more.

When the chest muscles are held stiff, smooth movement is restricted thus making it hard to properly engage the abs. This severely affects effective core support.

Here are a couple of fundamental warm-up exercises that can help loosen up the upper body to release the chest and mobilize the upper back. Enhance your ability to bend forward effortlessly and apply these helpful workout tips to all other forward bending Pilates exercises.

1. Standing Breastbone Slide Exercise

Start standing facing a wall and set both hands on the wall in a “push-up” position. Keep proper standing posture and the lower abdominals engaged. Breathe in to stand tall and on exhale, relax the chest to slide the breastbone down along the front of your shirt to bend the upper back forward. The bottom tips of the shoulder blades spread wide to generate room for the breastbone to soften and move the upper spine backwards in between the blades.
Take a deep breath in, then exhale and return to your center. Now work to slide the breast bone up to extend and arch the upper back. Inhale stand tall, exhale pull the shoulders down and start sliding the breast bone up and forward. As the breastbone moves forward, the upper back moves forward towards the breastbone to begin arching the back. Maintain low ab support so the arch is from the mid back up, rather than in the low back.
Continue alternating between the breastbone sliding downward and the upper back moving into flexion, and the breastbone sliding up and forward as the spine moves into extension.

What to Watch For:

•Keep the elbows straight and feel the breast bone and upper back bones move to alternate between flexion and extension.
•Let the eye focus change. Look down and forward when sliding the breast bone down. Look straight ahead for tall posture, and focus out and up to slide the breastbone up as you arch.
•Maintain low ab support so the mobility increases in the upper back and doesn’t place undue stress on the low back.

2. Expand and Contract the Ribcage (rise and fall)

When breathing in, the entire ribcage should fill with air, and the ribs separate. On your exhale, the ribs need to release and come closer together. This rise and fall of the ribcage creates and allows pliability, mobility, and flexibility through the entire chest.

With expansion and contraction of the ribcage the inhale needs to fill the ribcage from the bottom to the top. The exhale needs to empty the lungs from the top to the bottom. Put effort on the exhale to discover and feel the top ribs (right underneath the collar bones and below the armpits) soften or actively come closer together. A lot of people expand the ribcage under the armpits and up to the upper chest, but don’t release these muscles upon exhaling.

Learning to lengthen the spine and improve the rise and fall of the ribcage assists placing the back in a better position to articulate well while peeling the spine up off the mat to curl up or bend the back for any exercise.

For a tactile technique: Place your hands on your ribs up under the armpits and feel the ribcage move. It expands to inhale. Then starting from your armpits feel it the ribs release to exhale.

3. Standing Roll Down on the Wall

Stand with the entire back against the wall. The feet can be together or hip-width apart and placed out in front of the body as far as needed to help make it easier to keep the abs working and back against the wall.

The entire spine from the tailbone to the head starts firmly pressed to the wall, maintain core support throughout the exercise to keep the lower back firmly against the wall. Arms and shoulders remain hanging and relaxed throughout the exercise.

Inhale to stand tall, on the exhale nod the chin forward to look at the chest. Continue inhaling and exhaling to bend forward. Soften and relax the chest while you watch the breastbone slide down the front of the shirt, and feel it move backwards towards the wall between the shoulder blades while the back bends forward. Continue breathing steadily and forward bending peeling the back one segment at a time off the wall to the bottom of the shoulder blades. Lower abs stay engaged.

Inhale and exhale to roll back up to a tall standing position one segment at a time. The breastbone slides up as the shoulders pull down to return to a tall standing position with the back against the wall. Keep your core working.

Helpful Hints to Maximize Movement of the Upper Back on this Exercise:

• The chest muscles have to relax to allow the breastbone and front ribs to release. Then every rib from the top of the ribcage to the bottom of the breastbone should rotate and drop backwards underneath the collarbones and ribs above to efficiently deepen the forward flexion.

• Get help from your instructor, they can lightly place their hands on the front ribs to support find the movement.

• Practicing by yourself – place your hands on your breastbone to cue and feel it release, soften and slide down and back while you’re bending forward.

• The breastbone slides down and back between the shoulder blades while the rib cage turns from the top to the bottom rotate to bend forward.

By incorporating these 3 fundamental exercises into your workout routine, you can improve body awareness and improve the release of the chest to help mobility and function of the ribs, breastbone, and upper back movement. Then take these new movement habits back to all of the Pilates exercises you practice that need a forward bend.

Source: www.selfgrowth.com