I'm utterly convinced that everyone should take at least a couple of Pilates classes (from a good instructor !), no matter what sport they do. Pilates has taught me skills that I have carried on to the other fitness things that I do, as well as daily activities: I know how to protect myself from neck and back injury, and how to get the maximum out of every move.
Here is what I learned from Pilates:
Imagery makes moves more effective:
Visualisations make the exercises really work. Simply moving that leg up and down ? It's easy to cheat and not put any effort into it ! Now imagine you are pressing down a huge big spring coil. That will make you put a lot of energy into the movement, actually pressing, not just lowering the leg. When you want to keep parts of your body steady, imagine they are cemented to the floor; for balance, imagine glasses with water balanced on you.
Pelvic floor, back and abdomen:
My Pilates instructor starts every exercise with this mantra: "Tuck in your tailbone, flex pelvic floor, pull navel to spine." This little sequence is the most amazing thing that I use all the time, even while bicycling. It creates stability in the body, and soon becomes second nature, supporting your body in all sports and daily movements. Yes, we do all this even when stretching our neck.
Flexing the pelvic floor: The flexing of the abdomen is countered by pulling in the pelvic floor muscles. This is not only for ladies ! *Find out more*
Protecting your lower back: The neutral spine ensures you never stress your lower back. Since I did Pilates, I never get back pain from exercising any more. *How to find your neutral spine*
Engaging your belly: Engaging your abdominal muscles before you start the movement gives you a stable torso. It also makes sure you don't push out the belly while abdominal exercises. This abdominal scoop goes much deeper than the typical suck in your gut, as it begins from the pelvic floor. *Learn how to do it*
This is usually done in the following rhythm:
Breath in = tuck in tailbone, flex pelvic floor, scoop in navel.
Breath out = start the movement.
Protecting your neck
We often strain our neck while exercising by keeping it in at an angle to the rest of the spine. Pilates teaches to keep the neck in a straight line with the backbone. In exercises where you belly-down, this means keeping the head lowered and looking down at the floor, not at your instructor. If you are on your back, usually you need to tuck your chin to your chest.
Precisions & movement control
In Pilates, one precise movement is worth more than ten sloppy ones. Let's just face it: any movement is effective only when you do it right. Many of us cheat, like when using the neck or arms to do the movement instead of making the lazy abs do the work. By concentrating on the muscle at work, I became better at refining my control and actually putting them to work.
Focus also on the parts of the body not doing the movement
The entire body should be under control while performing a movement. Often we move a limb, flailing the rest of the body around . Keep your torso stable, and relax the parts of the body that are not being trained at the moment. Tensing your shoulders while doing leg lifts really doesn't help !
Do you have methods and tricks that you use in all your physical activities ? Where did you learn them ?
Photo by BakkoBrats