The Pilates method is based around ten basic principles. There are a number of interpretation of these but they all tend to be very similar; the most complete version is provided. Make and effort to pay attention to each of these during your session. These are the backbone of your Dynamic Reformer Pilates classes.
The overview of the basic principles:
Blocking out all other thoughts and complete focus on the movement of an exercise.
Proper breathing helps to relax. Breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth. Most of the time exhaling helps spinal flexion where as inhaling assists extension of the spine.
To make the most of the lung capacity aim to inhale into the ribcage and not into the abdominal cavity.
Aim to oxygenate lower lobes of lungs by breathing in a 3D pattern: into sides and back of the ribcage – lateral thoracic breathing. In addition to helping you supply the body with necessary oxygen for the exercise this breathing pattern helps to engage the pelvic floor muscles.
3. Pelvic Placement:
In supine (lying on your back) or standing position we aim to promote neutral spine alignment. In neutral position a natural lordotic (lower back) curve is maintained with ASIS (Anterior Superior Illiac Spine – the pointy bits at the front of your hip bodes) and Pubis Symphysis (your pubic bone) approximately horizontal.
Imprinting (gently flattening) the lumbar spine (lower back) is done in closed chain exercises when the client is a beginner or cannot maintain a neutral spine (gently curved lower back). Imprinting is mostly used in open kinetic chain movements.
4. Centering and Pelvic floor:
All the Pilates movement originate from the core, also known as the Power House. The muscles contained within this region of the body are Transverse Abdominals (TVA), Pelvic Floor group and Lumbar Multifidus.
Contraction of the pelvic floor muscles helps to activate deeper transverse abdominus muscles: pelvic floor can be activated by gently tightening the front and the back passages of the body and lifting through the middle to about 30-40% of your maximum perceived strength
5. Ribcage placement:
Aim to breath into the back and lateral aspects of the ribcage. Aim to stabilise the ribcage movement (e.g. preventing sticking out of ribs when raising hands overhead) and maintain the neutral thoracic (upper back) spine. This requires a lot of abdominal strength.
Prevent the ribs from sticking out by maintaining connection between the upper abdominals and lower ribs.
Prevent the back of the ribcage from lifting off of the carriage when performing supine (lying on your back) exercises involving arm movements e.g. supine front pull downs.
6. Scapulae (shoulder blades) movement and stabilisation:
Scapulae should lie flat against the ribcage. Scapulae should be stabilized during initiation of every movement.
The scapulae is only attached to the clavicle. No bony attachment to the ribs or the spine. This allows for great mobility of the arms. But needs to be stabilised as otherwise can lead to injuries.
Pilates helps to address any weaknesses of scapulae stabilisers that often result in permanent winging, elevation/depression, upward and downward rotation of one or both scapulae – all of which are a deviations from the standard neutral position.
7. Head and cervical (neck) placement:
Neutral position should be maintained standing, sitting or lying: natural anterior convex, head balanced directly above the shoulders.
Cranio-vertebral flexion on the first two vertebrae of the spine (top of the neck) occurs when moving into flexion in supine position e.g. stomach curl
Cervical spine follows the line of upper thoracic spine in all movements. The reformer has a head rest that can be used if you have weak neck flexors or strong neck extensors. If you do you would normally find your head tilting back when lying down on your back.
NOTE: When doing exercises such as the roll over or the short/long spine
sequence the headrest should be down to avoid injury – excessive flexion of the
cervical spine or jamming the chin into the breastbone when the legs go high
over the head can cause this.
Focus on how the body feels and aim to release the stress and tension accumulated outside the exercise sessions. By trying to release the tension from the parts of the body under stress the exercises can be performed smoothly.
Perform the exercises in a continuous flowing way. Focus on control of each movement to perform the concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) parts of each exercise for optimum conditioning
Total awareness of the musculature, body’s strengths and weaknesses is crucial if the exercises are to be executed in appropriate manner. Be mindful of listening to your body through out the class.
Lastly focus on the Quality:
Not a Pilates principle per se but something that is as relevant to body conditioning as with anything in life. Focus on proper alignment of the body and correct execution of exercises rather than the number of repetitions. This will help you get the most benefit from each session.
Applying the above principles will not only drastically improve your training results but will make each session safer, more enjoyable and fun.