Although Pilates has become a very popular form of exercise, many people still have not tried it and don’t know how to begin. Pilates provides a challenging workout; however, there are a few key components you must understand in order to get the maximum benefit from your workout.

I am a STOTT Pilates certified instructor, and STOTT Pilates promotes working in your spine’s natural curves.

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When I begin working with a new client, I teach them STOTT Pilates’ 5 Basic Principles which are Breathing, Pelvic Placement, Rib Cage Placement, Scapular Movement & Stabilization, and Head & Cervical Placement.

To really learn these principals, you should work with a trained STOTT Pilates Instructor.

However, here is a brief explanation to help you get started.

#1 Breathing

How to do Pilates if you're just starting out2

Breathing might be the most important element to a Pilates workout. It helps you focus and relaxes you, and it helps to engage your abdominal muscles.

Pilates breath inolves inhaling through the nose and exhaling out the mouth. It helps if you exhale through pursed lips because it engages the deepest layer of abdominal muscles.

Yes – you will make noise when you exhale! It’s ok!!! Don’t be afraid to do it. You will get more abdominal connection if you exhale through pursed lips.

Practice the breath as part of your warm up to help you focus on the work ahead. You also want your breath to be a deep lateral breath which means your chest and/or belly doesn’t fill up on the inhale. You want your ribs to expand to the sides so that you are filling your lungs to their fullest capacity.

Here’s a great way to learn how to practice lateral breathing:

1)  Sit with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor.
2)  Fold your torso over your bent legs and hug your legs with your arms.
3)  Let your head relax forward over your knees.
4)  Breath in through your nose and feel the breath go into the sides and back of your lungs.
5)  As you exhale through pursed lips, feel your rib cage close in like a corset tightening.
This is a great way to learn lateral breath because when you are folded over your legs you can’t breathe into your upper chest or belly. As you get better at it, you will be able to perform the lateral breath lying down, sitting, standing or in any position.

#2 Pelvic Placement

This principal can be a bit complicated, so I encourage you to work with a trained STOTT Pilates instructor, but here is a quick overview. For many exercises, the pelvis should be in neutral alignment.

When the pelvis is in neutral alignment, there is a slight curve in the lower back. When you are a beginner, it is best to work in neutral alignment when your legs are supported.

Your legs are supported when they are resting on the floor or some other object, and your body does not have to hold them up. When your legs are not supported, then you want to have what is called an imprint position. In an imprint position, the lower back is flat and the pelvis is slightly tilted back.

For example, if you were lying on a mat in neutral spine, you would have a small space under your lower back where it did not touch the mat.

When you are in imprint, that lower back is resting on the mat. It is a very subtle change from neutral, and it should not be forceful. Going into an imprint is a slight tilt of your pelvis. It takes practice to learn this, and it is an exercise in itself!

#3 Rib Cage Placement

Many people allow their ribs to pop forward and this causes their back to arch. Keep your ribs pulled down in order to keep your abdominal muscles engaged.

When you keep your abs engaged, you are strengthening your core and protecting your back. This is especially challenging anytime your arms lift over your head.

It seems natural to let the ribs pop forward when you take your arms up. However, in Pilates, you want to keep your ribs pulled down, so that the abdominal muscles stay engaged.

#4 Scapular Movement & Stabilization

One thing I am constantly reminding my clients is to keep their shoulders back and down. Many times when we are exercising or doing anything for that matter, we let our shoulders creep up next to our ears.

We do it when something is hard or stressful, and all it does is create more tension in your body. It is very important to check where your shoulders are.

If they are creeping up to your ears, pull them down. I always tell my clients, “You ears and your shoulders are not friends. Keep them away from each other!”

#5 Head & Cervical Placement

When we do abdominal exercises, we are flexing our spine.

Many times people flex their neck more than they flex their spine. This will make your neck hurt and it definitely won’t help make your abs stronger!

A good rule of thumb is to keep a fist’s space between your chin and your chest. If you place your fist pinkie side up under your chin, and nod your head until the thumb side of your fist touches your sternum, that is as far as you need to bend your neck.

Keeping that space will allow you to do the abdominal exercises without hurting your neck.

Keeping STOTT Pilates 5 Basic Principles in mind will help you get a great start to your Pilates workout. It will make the exercises safe and more effective.

Practicing these principles provides a great warm-up to your workout and reminds you of what to do while you are performing each exercise.

Pilates is truly a challenging workout, and if you are not feeling challenged, there is a good chance you are not performing the exercise correctly. Work with a trained professional to stay safe and get the most out of your Pilates workout.

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