My top five Pilates exercises and why! Part 1

School Of Pilates Posted Feb 02, 2016 Future Fit Training


We all have our favourite Pilates exercises. Sometimes they’re our favourites because we’ve seen what great results our clients have achieved by doing them regularly. Other times it might be that we use them to create a good structure to our classes.

My top five Pilates exercises and why! Part 1

I’ve listed five of my favourites and the reasons why I like to include them in my Pilates sessions.  These exercises are suitable for mixed ability classes and I’ve included some of the adaptations, modifications and progressions that I use when teaching.  

January is always a busy month for my classes with many new people attending as part of their New Year’s resolutions and I have to create a class that’s not only suitable for my newcomers but one that my regulars will enjoy as well.  As a teacher I have to be able to adapt, progress and modify the exercises within my session to suit individuals - and that’s what I love about teaching Pilates.  It’s challenging but so rewarding!

The One Hundred

Why?  This is the base exercise which all other supine exercises start from.  If this exercise is mastered, other supine exercises - no matter what level - will also be performed in correct alignment.  When performing this base exercise, it’s a good opportunity for teachers to remind clients about achieving the correct set-up position whilst lying supine and it reinforces the key principles of Pilates exercise.  It’s an extremely useful exercise and one I use in all my classes.

If you have a newcomer to your class, try this modification.  Perform the ‘pumping’ part of the exercise with only one leg raised at a time.  Encourage the class to feel comfortable before lifting both legs and coming into flexion with the arm pumps.

As progress for my regulars I would suggest extending the legs for 2 breaths, take them back to 90° for 2 breaths and gradually increase the amount of breaths their legs are extended, so eventually the full One Hundred is performed with extended legs.  

A tough adaptation would be to change the emphasis and try lowering both legs at the same time towards the floor on an out breath and bringing back to the 90° position on an in breath.  This is a challenging adaptation and focuses on maintaining neutral spine and core engagement.  A client who finds this difficult can try one leg at a time and then progress to both legs. 

Side Lying Chest Opener

Why? Any side lying exercise is useful to aid the flow of the class and for transitional purposes.  This particular side lying exercise is also an excellent corrective postural exercise as it opens out the chest and encourages rotation of the thoracic spine.  Any exercise that encourages our clients to open their chests, promoting better posture, is an important exercise to teach.  Many people develop poor posture as they spend so much time sat behind a desk and this movement promotes increased flexibility across the front of the upper body and contraction of muscles that may become relaxed across the upper back.

How would I modify this exercise?  By placing a towel under the client’s head if the neck is not aligned on the floor, or put the bottom arm under the head, as in the Side Kick, if this also helps with alignment.  You can progress this exercise by performing a circle with the arm rather than a forwards and backwards movement.  Again this is a slightly more challenging movement for those with increased mobility and good body awareness.

Adaptation – at the end of the movement, as the arms are outstretched and the chest is open, hold for 2 breaths before returning.  This will help with opening out the chest muscles further, thus improving kyphotic postures.

Written by Heather Oakes

You can read Part 2 here

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