The Anatomy of Pilates
May 1, 2022

By Liz Reid – Core Factor Pilates

When you think of exercise, you no doubt link it with moving fast, working up a sweat, sore muscles and feeling stiff the next day? Well, muscles need to be strengthened and maintained to avoid atrophy but they also need to be balanced and lengthened. Working your body mindfully is as important as a workout; just going through the motions or the steps is not going to help much.

Factor in how you exercise and what is best for you personally, as everybody is different. As we ‘progress through life’ our bodies change and how you exercise, should change too. In our teens and early 20s, we have so much energy and power, it’s easy to perform high impact, fast sports or exercise but lack stamina. As we move into our 30s, high energy is replaced by stamina, which is why successful long-distance runners tend to be 30 or 40-somethings.

Our muscular-skeletal system is quite remarkable and helps us to move autonomously, as well as consciously. When we exercise, our muscles respond quickly to what is required, adapting to improve how we move. Reflect on the type of exercise you do each week. Is anything missing? Are you overdoing one form of exercise? If muscles become over-developed, they can actually restrict movement and impair flexibility, causing imbalance. This can lead to muscle groups becoming weaker, as others grow bigger but not necessarily stronger.

Doing cardio exercise of 20-30 minutes 3-4 times a week is an important aspect of maintaining good heart health. This can be a long, meandering walk or a short brisk one, a half-hour swim, washing the car or doing housework; it doesn’t have to be a formal aerobics class or a run to get your heart rate up into the cardio range. You also need to include a more focused and slower-paced form of exercise with mindful breathing, such as Pilates. Pilates uses a Breathing Technique to help strengthen muscles, whilst others lengthen, helping you to visualise and control specific muscles with each exercise. Having a strong core helps improve posture and look after the back muscles, maximising the benefits of when you do cardio exercise. Pilates works muscles from the inside out, balances all the body’s muscles, working them in harmony whilst delivering a workout for the mind, relieving stress and creating a calm, contented state.

Tightness in our shoulders and upper back affects so many of us, often due to silent stress of our working day, our seated posture and driving. The Trapezius is a set of 3 muscle groups, Upper, Middle and Lower, which form a diamond shape, running from the neck and shoulders, down to the middle back. The Rhomboids move the shoulder blades up and down and tension can cause knots and ‘marbles’ of tightness if not released. The Pilates rolling exercises including ‘The Crab’ and ‘The Rolling Back’ combined with exercises which target the Trapezius and Rhomboids, such as ‘The Swan Dive’ and ‘The Rocking’ help release these particular sets of muscles beautifully.

The Hamstrings can shorten and tighten from a poor repetitive daily seated posture or if you run or cycle regularly, so don’t ignore them but lengthen them in a controlled way to avoid injury or back issues from developing. Tight Hamstrings can cause a cascade effect, pulling downwards, which tilts the pelvis backwards and consequently overworks and tightens your back muscles as they try hard to correct the poor posture. Pilates exercises such as ‘The Roll Up,’ ‘The One Leg Stretch’ and ‘The Jack Knife’ not only stretch the back but lengthens tight Hamstrings, keeping them at the correct length.

Keeping flexible and strong is vital in maintaining a balanced and healthy exercise routine and practising Pilates regularly, gives you just that!