This year I’ve decided to go back to study and start my Advanced Diploma of the Pilates Method! Having been inspired by my senior colleagues, I decided to take the leap to challenge and extend myself even further as an instructor. I’m excited and daunted by the work!
There is quite a lot of study involved and as I work full-time I need to dedicate long periods of time to it. Honestly, I’m finding it challenging on my body (and mind!) to sit down for such a long periods! I’ve put together this little series of exercises that invigorate my mind, invigorate my body and get me ready for my next intense session of study. The video is 4 times faster than usual speed, so if you want to try some of these exercises at home just remember to keep a steady pace of movement and to breathe and work within your range.
I start lying on a foam roller breathing into my belly; this could also be done on a rolled up towel or on the floor. As I continue to breathe I move my arms up to shoulder height to get a Pectoralis Major/chest stretch and then even higher to get a Pectoralis Minor stretch. I then bend my elbows just above shoulder height to get a full chest stretch. Next, I try and keep my hands as close to the ground as possible as I move my arms up and down in an exercise called snow angels; remember to work within your range – your hands may not be on the ground. Keep your humorous/upper arm centred in your shoulder joint. These are great stretches to open up my chest and counteract the roll forward I feel happening through my chest and shoulders.
To free up my shoulders even more, I lift my arms up vertically and move into openings – opening the arms out to the side. i think of this movement starting at the back of the shoulders to help keep my chest open. I then move into switches – moving one arm up and the other down. I move from the centre of my humerus and think of keeping my collar bones long and rolling with my arms. This exercise can be done as is, you could also add little hand weights (or cans of tomatoes!) to strengthen the shoulders more.
When I sit and study for long periods of time my hips get quite stiff, and as I have a hip injury it’s really important for me to keep myself mobile and strong. During this series, I keep my focus on pelvic and torso stability. I don’t want to over engage my tummy muscles but find support from them and the same from my pelvic muscles.
I come off the roller and take a few breaths; just to make sure that my body is all aligned and that my pelvis and spine are in their neutral position. For the next two exercises – hip openers and leg slides – I want keep my torso and pelvis stable by using my breath to engage the support of my deep abdominal muscles and pelvic muscles. This allows me to release the tension in my hips and easily move my legs around. Leg slides begin with feet together, and taking one knee to the side at a time. Leg slides are sliding one leg along on the floor and back. I then go into imprints, next I’m rocking my pelvis from side to side, then into hitching alternating hips. Finally I circle my hips in alternating directions, like the tracing of a clock face. Through using my breath I think of hollowing out my belly and engaging my deep abdominals muscles (being careful not to brace) without the help of glutes or hips.
Side lying series
Sitting down for long periods can also stiffen up my spine. I love book openers as it rotates my spine and opens up my chest. I lie on my side in a neutral spine and pelvis position. I float my top arm to the sky and then rotate my ribs around my spine to open up my chest. I’ve shown an alternative version with a bent arm if that works better for your body.
To help challenge and activate my torso stabilisers (and in particular my obliques) I love side lying work. This challenge through the torso helps me to stay strong and seated for these long periods.
I float both my legs up to a slight hover – keep thinking of creating length through the top of your head and out the soles of your feet. I then lift and lower my top leg into Abduction without creating the movement from the torso; I then lower and lift my bottom leg into Adduction – again without the assistance of my torso. I then challenge my stability and strength even more by holding my legs in the hover and moving my top arm into waving (bringing my arm to 90 degrees turn my palm and humerus towards me and continue over head and return) and openings (starting at 90 degrees I bring my arm down to in line with my shoulder joint and back up again).
Once I roll onto my tummy I spend a moment taking a few breaths to set up my position. After a study session, I find myself feeling ‘hunched’, so it’s important to activate the postural muscles that will help me feel aligned.
I start with a Diamond Press. I hover my nose to just off the ground, then let my sternum lead the way by swinging out, I let my spine drop and upper back muscles start to engage to create the movement. Next I progress that movement to a Basic Back Extension. Think of it as a diamond press but with my arms long by my side. Here I am mindful not to get the lift through a press down into the ground with the ribcage, I don’t want to change the pressure of my body on the mat, I want to almost skim the ground and find myself lengthening. On my last extension I add pulse – like a 100s on my tummy (Prone 100s). These help to get the extra fire from my upper back and tricep muscles, making sure that when I return to the desk I feel my shoulders are set.
I start with my knees under my hips and my wrists under my shoulder joint. I think back to the imprints and take this movement into a cat stretch; this mobilises my entire spine in both flexion and extension. Then I return to my neutral spine and find equal weight through all four limbs. I challenge myself to go from four points of pressure to three and lift my light arm to the side, just like in our arm openings, alternating sides I think of engaging through the back of the shoulder while trying to keep my torso and hips still. I then repeat the same thing with alternating legs extending behind me. This a great series to integrate everything I’ve worked on – and add a little extra challenge to my torso.
To finish I lie back on my tummy with my arms outstretched on the roller. I like to have my arms a little wider than my shoulders I use my shoulder blades to shrug my shoulders (without getting into my neck) and then glide them down my back. I do this a few times before I add an extension, or swan. As I glide my shoulders down, I allow myself to go into a diamond press or basic back extension and lower myself down. The roller will roll back and forth naturally.
Now that I have activated and energised my body – I’m ready to get back to study!