Want to get into pilates a new year resolution in 2023? Then have a go at these bodyweight moves – the perfect way to prep the body ahead of your first IRL class.
2022 was the year we all became obsessed with pilates – and that cult following isn’t going anywhere next year. In fact, many of us will be making regular pilates practice one of our new year’s resolutions. It’s a great goal: committing to a regular session will help you to end 2023 with a stronger body, better balance, more aligned posture and, just maybe, a happier mood. After all, there’s nothing like actually keeping a resolution to boost self-esteem.
But whether or not you stick to a January promise depends on how you prepare for it in December. There’s nothing less motivating than spending the festive season lying prostrate on the sofa, only to wake up on 1 January faced with the prospect of beginning a new running habit or schlepping to a new gym for the first time in six weeks.
Fortunately, pilates is something that can be done anywhere and preparing to take it up can be really simple. It’s all about building bodyweight strength and getting used to building time into your day to take to your mat.
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With that in mind, we’ve been speaking Amy Brogan, founder of online wellness platform A Body Forever (ABF). Pilates is one of the four pillars of ABF – encouraging clients to lengthen, strengthen and commit to doing something every day. Who better to help us prepare to make pilates into a habit?
“The foundations of pilates come from core and spine strength, and total body flexibility,” Brogan tells Stylist. Below are her five favourite moves or exercise collections for building a pilates-ready body.
Roll up (regression: half roll back)
“Being able to take your head, shoulders and upper body off the ground using your abs is one of the main movement patterns in pilates,” she explains. When a new client starts her programme, this is one of the first things Brogan asks if they can do, to gauge where their strength is at.
“Pilates uses the roll up to transition between exercises and it is amazing for building core strength and stretching the spine.”
- Start lying flat on the floor, legs out straight and arms stretched above your head
- Slowly start to peel your upper body off the ground, starting with head and shoulders
- Keeping your legs firmly planted, keep peeling by engaging the core
- Keep the arms above your head until you come fully into a seated position
- Immediately start to roll back down, arms always staying outstretched
Roll over (regression: pelvis lifts)
Just like you need to be able to lift your head and shoulders off the ground to roll up, you also need to be able to do the reverse: lying on your back and rolling in reverse to lift your legs and hips up and overhead.
“The roll over is amazing for the spine and back body, as well as working the core to get you in and out of the exercise,” Brogan explains. “If you can’t do this move with control, simple pelvis lifts are a great place to start building a good foundation.”
- This time, start on your back with knees bent in a 90-degree position
- Start to roll, bringing the legs up and over your head
- Keep your hands pressed down on the mat and end with your feet and legs parallel to the ground
- Exhale and slowly roll each vertebra back until you return to that beginning 90-degree knee position
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Series of five/the ab series
A big part of being able to do pilates is core strength and endurance. And a big part of pilates is the ab series (sometimes known as the ‘series of five’).
The ab series is composed of five exercises:
Single leg stretch
- Lie down on your back, knees bent towards your chest
- Inhale to lift your head and shoulders off the floor before extending one leg straight
- Keep the other leg bent, pulling it in towards the chest for a couple of seconds
Double leg stretch
- This time, both knees come in towards the chest
- Lift the head and shoulders off the floor before reaching both legs and arms away from your centre
- Be sure to keep the lower back flat on the floor, belly button sucked in towards the spine
- Bring legs and arms back in, hugging knees to chest
- Extend again
- From the double leg stretch, reach both legs up into the air, head and shoulders lifted off the floor
- Hold onto one leg as you extend the other leg parallel to the ground
- Pulse for two, before switching legs
- In an ideal world, both legs should always be straight – it’ll be harder the lower your extended leg goes
- Make sure there’s no arch in your back – by keeping the back flat into the ground, you’ll make sure the abs are turned on
Double straight leg stretch
- On your back, place your hands behind your head to support it, and lift your legs straight into the air
- Inhale to lower the legs together
- Lower for three, then raise back into the air
- Your back should be flat on the floor. To make this harder, extend the legs lower – to make it easier, don’t go so low.
- Knees bent, lying on your back, lift your head and shoulders from the floor – hands still behind your head
- Straighten one leg and twist from the mid-back to look over to that side
- Then bend that knee and extend the other leg while twisting to the opposite side
- Think ‘armpit to knee’, not elbow – that’ll ensure you twist deeper
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Spine stretches (in four directions)
Brogan says: “Having flexibility in your spine is really important for life – but also for your pilates class.” She recommends moving through four directions:
- Flexion (forward fold)
- Lateral flexion (side body stretch)
- Rotation (twisting)
- Extension (back bend)
Try cat/cow (flexion), standing side bends (lateral), seated spine twists (rotation) and prone back bends (extension).
Shoulder mobility, hamstring stretches and hip openers
Having open hips, hamstrings and shoulders is invaluable in pilates, because there are so many moves that require your legs to be out extended away from you, in a side position working the hips or with the shoulders carrying the brunt of your body weight.
Try pigeon pose for hips
- Begin in a low lunge position with your back knee and both hands on the floor
- Bring your front foot towards your opposite hand and drop your leg onto the floor so your shin is parallel with the top of your mat
- Bring your chest down towards the floor, over your front leg, to extend the stretch
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Release tight hamstrings in forward fold
- Stand tall with your feet at shoulder with apart and your chest open
- Hinge at the hips to drop your chest forwards into a forward fold
- Grab the back of your calves and use your hands to pull your head towards your shins
Thread the needle for more mobile shoulders
- In all-fours position, take the left hand to your left ear (keeping your right hand on the floor)
- Twist the left elbow up towards the sky
- Keep your pelvis and hips square so the stretch is just coming through the back of your shoulders
- Switch sides
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