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Cheat Sheet

Pilates For Dummies (Australia/New Zealand Edition)

Pilates has become one of the most popular fitness systems in the world, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. The Pilates method works to strengthen the centre, lengthen the spine, build muscle tone and increase body awareness and flexibility. This Cheat Sheet outlines the changes and benefits you can expect to see from introducing Pilates to your life, then gives you some tips for incorporate Pilates into your exercise routine. Once you’ve established why and how to embrace Pilates, take a sneak peek at the ten most important exercises to master.

Benefits of Pilates Exercises

Get excited about starting your Pilates program. Some of the changes you may not notice until three months into your Pilates workouts, but be patient. No exercise program works miracles. These changes in your body become apparent only if you maintain a regular Pilates program, meaning doing the workout at least twice a week.

  • A firmer butt: Most Pilates exercises work the butt. You should notice a definite change within a few weeks of doing Pilates regularly. Your butt should be more toned and perhaps a little smaller. If you start with a very small and undeveloped butt, it actually may grow a little, but in a very nice way.

  • Longer and leaner musculature: If you tend to bulk up when you work out, Pilates is an ideal strength-training program for you. Pilates exercises accentuate the length of the limbs and change bulky muscles into longer and leaner ones. In general, Pilates exercise should lengthen your muscles and make you look taller.

  • Better posture: Better posture is something Pilates can pretty much guarantee. And other people will surely notice this change in you after only a few Pilates workouts. If you take the lessons you learn from Pilates to heart, you’ll stand and sit taller and look more elegant.

  • A flatter tummy: The best way to get a flatter tummy is to lose a little weight. The second best way is to do Pilates. If you’re already thin but have a bulge in your middle, Pilates can help you lose a notch in your belt.

    The most basic aspect of the Pilates method is pulling your navel in towards your spine or scooping your abdominals. If you apply this simple technique to your everyday life — when standing, walking and so on — your belly will be flatter and more attractive.

  • Less back pain: Most back pain results from faulty posture and a sedentary lifestyle. Pilates addresses the muscle imbalances that most typically contribute to back pain, namely weak abdominals and butt muscles. Pilates also stretches out the tight and overworked back muscles. Proper alignment is the main factor that helps to alleviate back pain. If you do Pilates carefully, you’ll understand how to use your body in ways that protect your back from injury.

  • More flexibility: Pilates exercises stretch the muscles and the joints while they strengthen the body. If you have found that your spine has lost some of its range of motion and flexibility, Pilates very quickly lessens this problem.

    Everyone has physical limitations that depend on age, genetics and lifestyle. Pilates is not a panacea, but if you do a regular Pilates exercise program, your body can reach its potential in the areas of flexibility and strength.

  • More awareness: If nothing else, doing Pilates should give you a new awareness of your body. You may never have thought about pulling in your tummy, sitting up tall or keeping your shoulder blades down away from your ears. And you may never have thought a lot about how you breathe. The things you find out in Pilates will start to filter into your daily life, and you may find that you correct your own posture and habits naturally.

  • Better balance: Any gymnast knows that to keep from falling off the balance beam, you need to pull in your belly and squeeze your butt. In order to have good balance, you need to have a strong centre, and you need to know how to find it without a lot of thought.

    Pilates exercises strengthen the core. After doing Pilates regularly, you may not be able to do a back flip on the balance beam, but you’ll definitely find increased coordination and balance.

  • Greater strength: Any exercise regimen should increase your body’s overall strength, or else what’s the point? But Pilates strengthens the muscles in your body that you may actually notice on a day-to-day basis. Pilates is meant to improve your daily life: It can help you get up from bed, if that’s hard for you, or it can help you do a triple back flip off the diving board, if that’s your goal.

    Whatever activity you do, you’ll find that Pilates exercises improve strength in meaningful ways and can help with the overall health of your spine. Doing Pilates can prevent injuries, too!

Incorporating Pilates into Your Everyday Life

Even if you were to do Pilates for an hour every day, you wouldn’t get the profound results that Pilates has to offer if you reverted to bad postural habits for the rest of your day. Some people naturally take what they learn from Pilates and bring it to their non-Pilates activities.

  • Do the Basic Cat stretch every morning: If you were a cat, you’d do the Basic Cat every morning without even thinking about it. Start your day with a spine stretch to get the blood circulating and to get the kinks out before starting your day. The Basic Cat is a particularly good stretch for the morning because it’s very safe and gentle and doesn’t put unnecessary strain on a stiff spine.

  • Think of a golden string pulling you up from the back of the top of your head: Holding an image in your head can help you change your body dramatically. Working out with a regular Pilates routine does wonders, but thinking about proper alignment for the rest of your day does even more. Try to remember to stand up with the back of the top of your head pulled up towards the sky, thereby lengthening your spine.

  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and pulling down your back: It’s easy to unconsciously hunch your shoulders. This movement is one of the most common misuses of muscles, and working at a desk or computer exacerbates this tendency. Relax your shoulders, and keep pulling the shoulder blades down and away from your ears.

    Think of using the muscles underneath the shoulder blades to keep the shoulders in their proper dropped position. Doing so works wonders for your neck!

  • Remember to breathe deeply: Take a moment each day to breathe deeply and slowly. Most people use only about half of their lung capacity. Try to take a breath that fills up the lowest portion of your lungs.

    This style of breathing is relaxing and good for your health. Lungs are three-dimensional and extend as far back as your ribs go. Breathing wide into the ribs, instead of up and down, can actually stretch the back and release muscle tension.

  • Get a lumbar support pillow for work and your car: A lumbar pillow supports your lower back and helps you maintain Neutral Spine while you work and drive. Remember that improper posture is the number one reason for back pain.

    You can buy lumbar support pillows at most large pharmacies, variety stores or back care stores. You simply place it in the small of your back and, voilà, you can feel your posture improving effortlessly!

  • Sit up tall when working: If you don’t have a lumbar support pillow, then you must support your back all by yourself. You can do so just by thinking the right thoughts. Most back pain is due to faulty posture and sitting incorrectly. Sit up tall, trying to lift up from the lower back, so that you have Neutral Spine when sitting. Your head should be balanced in a straight line on top of your hips, not jutting out in front.

  • Get a cervical pillow for your bed: A cervical pillow (or neck pillow) looks like an oversized hot dog and goes behind your neck when you’re lying on your back or on your side. The pillow functions to support the natural curve of your neck. Chronic neck soreness often results from an improper sleeping position. This type of pillow is especially useful if you wake up with neck pain.

  • Walk the right way: Imagine that you’re a supermodel on a catwalk. When you stride down the street, think of walking with a long stride, initiating the movement from the hips and butt, not just the knees.

    This way of walking increases the length of your stride while stretching out the front of your hips (your hip flexors). Walking with long strides helps reverse the tightness in the hips and back that comes from long bouts of sitting.

Ten Important Pilates Exercises

Determining the top ten Pilates exercises isn’t easy because different exercises are good for different people. Yet, some exercises stand out among the rest, including the following:

  • Coccyx Curl: This exercise is essential for warming up the spine before attempting the Hundred. Coccyx Curls will warm up the lower back, get you in touch with your deep abdominals and connect you with your butt and hamstrings.

  • Upper Abdominal Curl: This is a good second exercise to do right after Coccyx Curls. This exercise will warm up the upper back and neck and strengthen your upper abdominals (while developing stability in Neutral Spine in the lower back and pelvis).

    The Upper Abdominal Curl also teaches proper neck alignment. When you lift your head off the mat and think of squeezing an orange under your chin, you are using your deep neck muscles, which are important for neck health.

  • Hundred: If your body and spine are warm before hitting the mat, Hundred is a fine way to start your mat routine. The Hundred exercise is a good way to get you really warm and maybe a bit sweaty, and one of the best exercises to connect the breath to the abdominal muscles using percussive breathing. It’s great for strengthening the deep abdominals and neck muscles.

    Bridge: Everyone can do Bridge safely: the young, the old and the restless. This exercise makes the top ten because it teaches torso stability and strengthens the butt and back of the legs (the gluteus maximus and hamstrings). The single leg variation improves lower back and pelvic stability (by working the gluteus medius).

  • Roll Down and Roll up: This very basic exercise uses your whole abdominal wall and helps you in daily life. Roll Down/Roll Up will strengthen abdominals and hip flexors (the psoas muscles), plus stretch the spine.

  • Rolling Like a Ball: This exercise is both fun and good for you. It often makes you feel like a kid again, while at the same time it increases back flexibility, massages the back and teaches control from the deep abdominals.

  • Rising Swan: This is a lovely exercise. It makes the top ten because it strengthens back and neck muscles and reverses the effects of slumping, as well as stretching the chest, abdominal, butt and hamstring muscles (when done correctly).

  • Side Kicks: This is a favourite series as it can really work the butt. Side Kicks will strengthen butt muscles (gluteus maximus and medius) and build torso stability. Plus, they’re doable even if you’re pregnant.

  • Swimming: This is a full-body exercise that has many benefits. Swimming makes the top ten because it strengthens the back and neck muscles, trains proper neck alignment and reverses the effects of slumping.

  • Sexy Spine Stretch: This exercise is often seen as a self-adjustment for the spine. Often there will be a popping noise, which is the spine realigning. The Sexy Spine Stretch will work the spine, back, chest and pectoral muscles. These stretches also make your spine twist, thereby increasing flexibility.

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