How to enhance your core stability and improve body alignment

by Gazette Reporter

Picking up pilates – Week 1

Pilates focuses on developing our small muscles, which can greatly enhance overall athletic performance

STANDFIST –  Róisín Mooney is a qualified pilates teacher, based in Rathfarnham. Over the next four weeks, she will be helping the readers of the Dublin Gazette to ease into the New Year by introducing you to a number of  pilates techniques.

Whether you’re looking to fulfil your resolutions after the excesses of the prolonged Christmas holiday or to redefine your attitude towards exercise, your body and mind can benefit from incorporating a few sessions of pilates into your week.

Lots of workouts tend to focus on strengthening the larger muscle groups, such as biceps, quads and shoulders. Although these muscles are integral to our fitness and health, we should never neglect our smaller supporting muscles which are key to improving and maintaining stability, flexibility and alignment.

Pilates focuses on developing our small muscles, which can greatly enhance overall athletic performance, boost endurance and stamina for lots of other sports and activities.

Take running for example, pounding the pavements can be an excellent exercise option. However, it can also wreak havoc on your joints and a poor running technique could exacerbate existing muscle imbalances.

Pilates enhances core stability and improves alignment, which means that it greatly reduces the risk of injury and is worth teaming with everything from running and football, to cycling and dancing.

For this introduction to pilates, I’ve selected some moves that you can try at home, using just a mat. If you don’t have a yoga or pilates mat, you could use a thick or folded towel for a bit of extra comfort as you attempt these moves.

I have chosen two moves from the series of five, a selection of pilates abdominal exercises. The nice thing about these moves is that they can be modified for injury or level, simply by not taking your legs too low or by keeping your head and neck resting on the mat rather.

These images display two moves, the single leg stretch and tabletop, and their modifications. While challenging yourself is great, please opt for whatever feels more comfortable for your body, rather than pushing yourself too quickly.

  1. Single Leg Stretch

Lie on your back with your knees bent, placing your legs in the tabletop position (knees and shins parallel to each other and to the floor).

Exhale: Draw your abdominal muscles down closer towards the mat as you lengthen your spine. Lengthen the back of your neck, bringing your chin down slightly and imagine that you are holding a tennis ball in the space between your chin and chest. Use your abdominal muscles to curl your upper body off the mat as far as the base of your shoulder blades. For the modification, you can rest your head on the ground.

Extend your left leg straight out and place your right hand at your right ankle and your left hand at the inside of the right knee.

Inhale: Switch legs, so that you right leg is now extended and your left leg is bent. Place your left hand on the left ankle and the right hand on the left knee. Continue to inhale as you pull the bent knee slightly more toward your chest.

Exhale: Continue to alternate legs on each breath, performing five to10 reps on each side.

  • Tabletop

Lie on your back with your knees bent, placing your legs in the tabletop position.

Exhale: Draw your abdominal muscles down closer towards the mat as you lengthen your spine. Lengthen the back of your neck, remembering to leave space for that imaginary tennis ball between your chin and chest as your bring your chin slightly downwards. Use your abdominal muscles to curl your upper body off the mat as far as the base of your shoulder blades.

Inhale: Lift your arms off the mat so that they are parallel with the ground and turn your hands, with your thumbs pointing towards the ceiling.

Exhale for five: Using both arms in unison, lower them slightly and, allow them to rise to their previous position in short bursts of exhaling breath. Ensure that your legs remain in place, your shoulders down crawl towards your ears and your abdominal muscles are working hard to keep your body in place as you move only your arms.

Inhale for five: Do the same as above, now moving your arms on short bursts of inhaling breath.

Modification: If you are finding it too difficult to hold your body in the tabletop position, you can include your legs in the exercise to remove all of the work from your abs. Alternate between legs, tapping first your right to and then your off the ground, while holding the other leg in the tabletop position.

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