Pilates is an excellent exercise program for full-body fitness, whether the preferred routine is on the mat or on specialized equipment. Pilates targets both the structural, such as deep stabilizers, and superficial muscles, such as the quads and glutes, while streamlining the body with its focus on lengthening and strengthening. It also focuses on breathing techniques that send nourishing oxygen to hard-working muscles; these techniques have the added benefit of slimming the midsection, often referred to as the "core." Like all forms of exercise, however, taking the time to properly warm up is crucial to avoiding muscle and ligament strain so that you can get the most out of Pilates.
The Importance of Breathing
Breathing is a crucial component Pilates, but good breathing practices are also key to a correct warm-up. To prep your body and mind for your Pilates workout, start by spending several minutes engaging in deep diaphragmatic breaths. This method of breathing involves expanding the rib cage laterally on the inhale, and keeping the shoulders relaxed, contracting the rib cage on the exhale. The diaphragm is a powerful muscle and working it through breathing can make your midsection stronger and sleeker.
Standing Warm-Up Stretches
Stand with your feet at shoulder-width and your arms to your sides. Slowly roll your shoulders back, squeezing your shoulder blades as you do so. Repeat and then reverse the direction of the shoulder roll. Next, place your hands on your hips and slowly allow your spine to flex and bend toward the floor. If you can place your hands on the floor, do so, but be careful not to strain beyond your ability. If you can't touch your hands to the floor, keep them on your hips or allow them to gently hang. To return to standing, place your hands back on your hips and slowly bring your spine to an upright position.
Floor Warm-Up Stretches
Sit on the floor or on your mat with your legs straight in front of you. Gently bend forward, reaching your hands toward your feet. Do not strain to reach your feet; if you can only reach your calves, that is fine. Breathe deeply and lower farther into the stretch as your flexibility allows. Next, remaining in a seated position on the floor, open your legs so that they are in a "V" shape. Place your hands on the floor and walk them forward, flexing your spine and dropping your upper body into the space between your legs. Again, do not strain. Return to the starting position by walking your hands back and straightening your spine.
If, during your warm-up, you feel any unusual tightness or burning or stabbing pain in your muscles or joints, skip your workout and talk to your doctor or physical therapist. People of all fitness levels and abilities can enjoy Pilates, but if an injury or limiting physical condition is suspected, it's better to wait to workout until you discover and address the cause of discomfort.
- Teaching Pilates for Postural Faults, Illness & Injury; Jane Paterson
- Pilates; Rael Isacowitz
- The Pilates Body; Brooke Siler
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.