It's the details of Pilates that make it an effective system. The exercises target both the smaller and larger muscles. Pilates instructors place special emphasis on the muscles that control postural alignment. One of these is called the pectoralis minor. When overly tight, the pec minor wreaks havoc on upper body alignment.
Meet Your Pec Minor
Your pectoralis minor hides behind its big brother, the pectoralis major. This small muscle group has big responsibilities. Because of its attachment to both your ribs and your scapula, your pec minor controls the movements of both these structures. Scapula protraction, otherwise known and rounding the shoulders, is a major function of your pec minor. If you sit throughout the day with your shoulders and ribs hunched toward your computer, your pec minor muscle group tightens, and the slouch becomes habitual.
The Stott Pilates method uses a protraction and and retraction exercise that mobilizes the pec minor muscle group. Lie supine with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and your arms reaching toward the ceiling with your palms facing each other. Reach fingers toward the ceiling and lift your shoulder blades from the mat. This is scapula protraction. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10 repetitions. The next set keeps the same body position, but this time, squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other, as if you were catching a pencil between them. This is scapula retraction.
Fitness Circle Exercise
Made from a flexible metal and featuring pads for hand placement, the fitness circle supports pec minor strength and stretching exercises. For cleavage enhancement stand upright and place the circle directly in front of your chest. Hold it with both hands, keeping your fingers open and your elbows slightly bent. Press the circle inward 10 times. Continue the pulsing movement, and slowly move the circle overhead head. Next, continue the presses and lower the circle toward your hips. To stretch your pec minor muscles, hold the circle behind your back, and press inward with both hands.
Mat and Apparatus
Your pec minor muscle group assists your pec major during exercises such as the Pilates pushup, plank and leg pull. On the Reformer, the "hug a tree" exercise is similar to the traditional chest fly. Sit upright on the carriage with your legs crossed. Grasp the pulley handles, and bring your arms out to the side at shoulder level. Imagine that you are hugging a big tree, a big teddy bear or a big guy. Keep your elbows flexed as you bring your hands together, then open your arms and return to the starting position. Caveat: If you already tend to round your shoulders, this is not the best exercise for you. Focus on pec minor stretches, and perform Pilates upper back exercises to balance the muscle groups.
In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.