We love our many devices, don’t we? The phone, the laptop, the iPad – it’s the means by which we stay connected and get our work done. The last time we went shopping for a tv – my husband insisted that we look at the “smart” TVs. They are pretty smart, you know – because we spend a lot of time forming ourselves in shapes to accommodate them! You can better your posture using the Flight Fundamental as we described in the last blog. Here’s another great pair of exercises that help rebalance the muscles that often become weak from hours of being deskbound.
Rounded shoulders and being seated encourages tightness in the chest, and in the hip flexors. Typically that also means your upper back muscles are weaker, and your hip extensors (muscles like your glutes and hamstrings, that help you stand, run and jump) become less efficient. Short-term, that might not seem like a problem. But left unaddressed, a weak lower body can leave the lower back and the hip complex vulnerable. It can also lead to poor habits long-term.
For these Intermediate exercises you do need to have strong wrists. Essentially, the end result is a reverse plank. The reason I’m referring to them as a “preps” is because the full Leg Pull exercise calls for lifting a single leg while in extension. That’s quite Advanced and we’ll cover that more in a future blog. In the meantime, you can benefit from the strength gains of the progression, and then perfect your way to the full version.
This move targets all the muscles typically weakened from the sedentary posture, by opening up the hips, chest and shoulders. As with all Pilates exercises, you want an initiation in the core, and then you’ll be working the glutes, hamstrings, and the upper back muscles that help to stabilize your shoulder blades and counter tight pecs.
Related Pilates Fundamentals: Flight and Bridge
#1 Leg Pull Prep: Table
- Sit with your feet parallel, hip distance apart and about a foot in front of the knees. Place your hands under your shoulders, fingers pointed in the same direction as your toes.
- Inhale to prepare, and exhale as you connect to the abdominals first, and think of curling the pelvis to lift. You should fire in the glutes, simultaneously involve the upper back and triceps to lift the hips off the ground. Level your hips and shoulders as best your can.
- Maintain your hips level, line your head with your spine, and focus on opening your chest to the sky. *Your knees should be parallel and over your feet – not beyond. You literally want to look like a table.
- Keep your full footprint on the ground, and think of pressing the floor away from you with all four limbs equally.
- Stay up for 1 or 2 cycles of breath, and then lower down.
- Repeat 3-5x
- If you have trouble with the hand position, optionally you can turn your hands so that the fingers point to the sides.
- Imagine your head on one end, and your tailbone and knees on the other end are lengthening away from each other.
- If you feel pressure in your low back, you may need to keep working on the Bridge Fundamental
- When you lift into Table, if you feel like either your arms only or your legs only seem to be doing all the work, chances are you are either not recruiting uniformly; or you aren’t able to because your center of gravity is not placed where all limbs can help efficiently.
Check your foot/knee and hand placement before trying again. Envision divvying up the effort, giving each limb 25% of the responsibility of lifting.
- Modification: If you have a lot of trouble opening the chest and shoulders, consider doing the exercise from a bench or anchored chair. Keep your hands underneath your shoulders on a firm chair base, and walk your feet out until you can re-create the Table position.
#2 Leg Pull Prep: Reverse Plank
This is very nearly the same concentration as Table, only with the legs fully extended. Ideally, master Table before progressing to Reverse Plank.
- Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Place your hands under your shoulders, fingers pointed in the same direction as your toes.
- Inhale to prepare, and exhale as you connect to the abdominals and initiate a Bridge, curling the pelvis to lift. As with Table, the glutes, upper back and triceps stabilize as you lift the hips off the ground.
- Press the floor away with the chest open, heels down, reaching the sole of the foot into the floor. Keep the legs “glued” to the centerline.
- Bring your head up, looking more forward so that your head and neck angle are in line with the rest of your spine. Avoid “tossing your head” backwards. Think streamlined – as in Bridge Reference 2 (see below)
- Stay up for 1 or 2 cycles of breath, and then lower your hips back down.
- Repeat 3-5x
Once seated, keep the forearms straight and flex your palm-in, to stretch and relieve the the wrists.
Older adults with weakness in the glutes and hamstrings have trouble transitioning from sitting to standing and vice versa. When they feel like they cannot make it the rest of the way down to take a seat, one strategy many people will choose, is to “plop” into their chair or sofa. They take aim with their rear end, and then let their feet slip forward in order to land. Needless to say, this can be very dangerous and lead to falls or other injuries!
While that may sound extreme, you seriously want to avoid ever having to choose that strategy. Remember that Pilates was originally called “Contrology” – a practice of mind-body integration. Start now by being smart and use these Pilates progressions in your routine to maintain strength and mobility.
Think of it as your long-term plan to protect your spine and your ability to for functional movement!!
Show off your best Reverse Plank the next time we see you in the studio!