According to Joseph Pilates, “physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness” whereby in order to achieve happiness, he believed it was imperative to “acquire strong and healthy bodies and to develop our minds to the limit of our abilities.” The Pilates method evolved into a vision of an ideal lifestyle based on a selection of key principles which continue to serve as the backbones of the practice today. One of the principles is continually highlighted due to the benefits it serves to our core, which we’ll focus on here and that is ‘Centring.’
In Pilates, all movement and energy radiates outward from our centre and flows towards the extremities aka our limbs. Developing a strong, flexible and stable centre, also named by Joseph as the “powerhouse”, is one of the defining forms of this practice and why Pilates is known to be so beneficial for the core. Despite all Pilates exercises originating from the centre, there are a selection of mat based Pilates exercises which are particularly focused towards developing core strength, control and stability specifically. A selection of these are known as the ‘Series of Five’ which are commonly taught in the following sequence, one after the other. These exercises work on all the abdominals, including the RA (rectus abdominus), the TA (transverse abdominus) and the obliques (internal and external), and we promise they will get those abs burning.
So, grab your mat, lie on your back and say hello to those abdominals!
Before we get started, there are a few precautions when performing these exercises. For any neck and shoulder injuries, ensure you support the head, neck and upper body with a towel/wedge and work the lower body only. For any low back injuries, work with an imprinted spine or neutral position of the lower back if tolerated. For any leg extensions or leg lowers, only lower the legs as far as they can whilst keeping the back stable (no arching) or avoid. Avoid with osteoporosis.
- SINGLE LEG STRETCH:
- Starting position: Sit on the mat with both legs pulled into the chest. Place the right hand on the inside of the left knee and the left hand on the outside of the left ankle. Roll down with control as the free right leg straightens, keeping the leg at a height that allows the lower back to remain stable. Keep the head, neck and shoulders lifted off the mat.
- Exhale and release the leg that’s being held into the chest, straighten it below you and pull the other leg in. Sink the abdominals as you bring the leg in, keeping the elbows wide and the back steady.
- Inhale, switch legs and repeat. Keep the torso as still as possible, the head supported with minimal strain and the legs level with the eyes.
- Repeat for 8-12 sets.
- DOUBLE LEG STRETCH:
- Starting position: Lie on your back with the head and upper body rounded off the mat, both knees into the chest, hands on the ankles and abdominals pulled in. The back should be in imprint or supported neutral until you can keep your back absolutely still as the legs extend out.
- Inhale, reach the legs out straight and arms up overhead behind you without changing the curve of the upper body or the position of the lower back. Lower the legs only as far as you can before the back arches off the mat. Keep the arms in line with the ears.
- Exhale and draw the legs into the chest and sweep the arms around to hold the ankles. Keep the torso still as the legs and arms move away from the centre, supporting the torso and head with minimal tension.
- Repeat for 4-6 repetitions.
- SINGLE STRAIGHT LEG STRETCH:
- Starting position: Lie on the back with the head and upper body rounded off the mat with one leg reaching towards the ceiling and the other leg reaching out in front of you. Lower the legs only as far as you can without disturbing the stability of the lower back and pelvis. Place the hands as far up the leg as they can easily reach but not directly behind the knee and sink the abdominals to the mat.
- Inhale, engage the abdominals and draw the leg closer to you. Pulse the leg two times with a short inhale on each one (known as a sniffing breath).
- Exhale and switch the legs, keeping the torso and low back still and the shoulders down with the elbows wide. Keep the torso still as the legs and arms move. Lower the leg as close to the floor as possible without disturbing the back or touching the ground. Support the torso and head with minimal tension.
- Repeat for 8-12 sets.
- DOUBLE STRAIGHT LEG STRETCH:
- Starting position: Lie on the back with your hands behind your head, elbows in peripheral vision, the upper body lifted off the mat and both legs reaching towards the ceiling, toes pointed (bend knees for tight hamstrings). The back can be in imprint here or supported neutral until you can keep the back completely still as the legs lower.
- Exhale, engage the abdominals by sinking the bellybutton towards the spine and lower the legs towards the mat, reaching through the toes. Ensure you lower the legs only as far as you can without arching the back off the mat.
- Whilst keeping the abdominals engaged and upper body still, inhale to slowly return the legs towards the ceiling.
- Repeat for 2-4 repetitions.
- CRISS CROSS / BICYCLE:
- Starting position: Lie on the back with hands behind the head, head and upper body lifted off the mat, one leg bent in towards the chest and other leg reaching out away from the body off the floor (at eye level height). Sink the abdominals. The back is in imprint or supported neutral until you can keep the back completely still as the legs lower.
- Exhale and rotate the torso, reaching the rib cage towards the opposite knee whilst keeping the elbows wide and abdominals pulled in. Keep the hips on the mat and lower abdomen stable.
- Inhale and switch sides.
- Repeat for 8-12 sets.