Okay so if you read my last post here, you'd know I'm a huge advocate for pilates. It's hugely beneficial in improving your core strength and stability. It's also great for flexibility and increasing your range of motion. One of my favourite things about pilates is that the more you get into it and the more advanced moves you're able to do, the more flexible you become. Many of the moves have subtleties to them that make it feel like you're building muscle AND stretching at the same time. Increasing your flexibility and range of motion isn't just beneficial to pilates - it's great for all forms of exercise and physical activity. Staying stretched and flexible decreases chances of injury and allows you to build and strengthen more obscure muscles. It also helps in the bedroom... As mentioned in my last post, strengthening your core and pelvic floor will drastically improve your sex life. But, so will increasing your flexibility. And that doesn't just go for women! Men...increasing your hip flexibility will go a LONG ways (pun somewhat intended). These moves are a bit more advanced and I advice working up to them to avoid injury. However, they are similar to traditional abdominal exercises and if you have good core strength (and preferably a spotter), proceed slowly.
1. Double Leg StretchLay flat on your back, hugging your knees to your chest. Curl up your head, neck and shoulders to engage your abs. Inhale and extend your arms & legs out to a 45 degree angle. Exhale and circle your arms to your sides and then hug your knees to your chest. That's 1 rep **If this is too much, keep your arms and legs pointed towards the ceiling at a 90 degree angle instead.
2. Single Straight Leg StretchExhale, life up your head, neck and shoulders to engage your abs. Extend both arms and legs straight towards the ceiling. With both hands, hold onto one ankle at either your ankle (very flexible), your calf (kinda flexible) or thigh (not super flexible) and give your leg a tiny double pulse towards your body, lowering your other leg as close to the ground as you can (to further engage your abs). Alternate and do the same with the other leg. That's 1 rep. **If this is too much, you can bend that "pull" leg and hug your knee into your chest**
3. Jack KnifeThis name is given to so many different exercises. In pilates laying on your back, arms at your sides and legs straight together. Keeping your arms right beside your body with your palms facing down and without creating momentum, raise your legs up to a 90-degree angle without bending them. Use your abs! Exhale as you lift your hips off of the mat (like a reverse crunch - but slowly) and roll your body over so that your feet are behind your head hovering above the floor. Make sure that your chest stays low and your neck remains elongated and your hips don't move out of alignment. **IF you can, touch your feet to the floor and hold for 3 seconds. If you feel strained, do NOT push yourself.** Inhale as you raise your legs back up into that reverse crunch and then exhale as you slowly lower your body back to the mat, vertebra by vertebra.Lengthen the neck and ensure that the head stays on the floor. That's 1 rep.
4. Control BalanceIf you can fully complete the jack knife (placing your feet on the ground behind your head) you can move into control balance. This is where you bring your arms up by your head & send a single leg straight up from that position. You will then slowly bring the other leg up to meet it, pause, and then alternate - letting the other leg drop down to the floor behind your head. That's 1 rep. *Note: If you need more stability, keep your arms down by your sides instead of up by your head* When working with this move (especially if you have access to a pilates class or equipment), the goal is to work up to the Balance Control Dismount One thing I love about pilates is that when you notice your strength improving, it comes with a type of fluidity. Almost dance like. You can move your body and control your muscles in all these intricate ways . Some of my favourite moves require equipment, like those performed on the cadilac. Obviously most (if not all) people can't fit one of these in their homes, but it's interesting to watch and if you ever get the chance to work on one, it's a lot of fun. What the cadilac moves have in common with the four described above is an actual GOAL. Instead of being about to complete X amount of reps, the goal is to be able to do these exercises at the highest intensity level AND correctly. Personally for me, I feel super motivated when I can see my body achieve something it couldn't two weeks or a month ago. The first time I could do a controlled jack knife and get both my legs onto the ground, I SAW a change in myself. I know that lots of people get that way when they're able to complete more reps than before or lift more weight - but this is just something I personally prefer and maybe a new goal you can set for yourself.
I've used the elements above + the moves in this post here for a flexibility pilates routine. Or use them in your existing workouts for a bit of variation.
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