Thursday, May 17, 2007

Top 5 Pilates Exercises for Athletes

by Tracey Katona, Teacher at Nike

Pilates exercises strengthen what Joseph Pilates called the "Powerhouse". Most people refer to it in the fitness industry as your core. The muscles that make up your powerhouse are the abs, buttocks, lower back, hips and thighs. When these muscles are strengthened they protect your back from potential injury and can alleviate most existing back problems. A strong powerhouse also helps to take undo load off of your joints and spine helping the body to work more efficiently. The Pilates method is also excellent for rehabbing repetitive stress injuries, shoulders, backs, knees, and hips by focusing on strengthening the deepest muscles of the body and increasing flexibility.

The 100

This exercise is called the 100 because you do the exercise for 100 beats. It is for breathing, getting the blood flowing and strengthening your abdominals and torso.
  • Lie on your back with your legs bent at a right angle. Draw your belly in like you are pressing it into the mat beneath you.
  • Bring your head up with your chin to your chest looking at your belly button and stretch your arms forward like you are trying to reach to the wall across from you.
  • Pump your arms up and down rapidly keeping them straight and strong. Inhale for 5 counts, exhale for 5 counts. You want to try and complete 10 sets.
  • Remember to stay rounded forward from your torso not your neck! As you get better at this, start to make your legs straighter!

The Roll Up
This exercise strengthens your core and stretches your hamstrings and back.
  • Lie on your back stretching your arms behind you. Your legs can be straight on the mat, or you can bend your knees if you need to modify.
  • Reach your arms to the ceiling and round your chin onto your chest. Continue to roll up one vertebrae at a time. At the top, stretch forward with your belly button in to your spine.
  • Squeeze your knees and buttocks together and curl your spine as you roll back down one vertebrae at a time. Repeat this 6 times. Try to keep your lower body stable and on the mat.

Rolling Like a Ball
This exercise will improve your balance, work and massage your back.
  • Sit on your tailbone with your knees bent, but slightly apart. Hold your ankles with your hands and lift the feet up so you are balancing on your tailbone.
  • Keep the elbows out to the side so you do not lift your shoulders up. Keep your chin tucked to your chest and round your back by pulling your naval to your spine. Fall back rolling to the shoulders and roll back up to the tailbone.
  • Remember do not throw your head back or kick your feet up. Stay as round as a ball feeling each vertebra touch the mat in order on the way back and the way up. Do this 10x.

Double Leg Straight
These next two exercises are part of the stomach series. This exercise here works your Powerhouse to the extreme! It gets your entire core while fueling the stretch in the hamstrings.
  • Lie on your back with your hands behind your hand. (one on top of the other- do not lace your fingers). Stretch your legs right up to the ceiling and turn the thighs out slightly to form the Pilates V. Your inner thighs should be squeezing tightly together and the negative space of your feet should from a V.
  • Press your naval in to your spine like you are securing it to the mat beneath you and lit your head and shoulders off the mat keeping your chin to your chest. Keep squeezing your inner thighs and butt.
  • Lower your legs down toward the mat ONLY AS FAR AS YOU CAN KEEP YOUR NAVAL IN DO NOT ARCH YOUR BACK. Then exhale and bring the legs back up to the ceiling keeping your tailbone on the mat. Repeat this 8-10.

Criss Cross
This exercise works the obliques and increases flexibility in the back, hips and torso.
  • Keep your hands behind your head without lacing them and bend your knees to your chest.
  • Extend the right leg and twist your upper body bringing your right elbow to the left knee. Look back to the left elbow. Make sure your upper back and shoulders are not touching the mat.
  • Now bend the right knee and extend the left leg bringing your left elbow to your right knee and look back at your right elbow.
  • Keep pulling your abs in and do not let them push out. Repeat this for 8-10 sets.