The upper back muscles can become weak and overstretched if you spend long periods looking down at a computer, reading, driving etc. The following 3 exercises help improve posture by strengthening the upper back and shoulders. You can use a resistance band or a towel.
Purpose: Strengthens the back and promotes coordination.
- Lie on your front with your legs abducted to hip distance apart and your arms in front of you, shoulder width apart and palms facing down.
- Exhale for 5 counts whilst raising your left arm and right leg, keeping your spine extended, your neck long and your chest open.
- Inhale for 5 counts to lower the arm and leg.
- Repeat the exercise on the opposite arm and leg.
Perform 3 to 6 repetitions on each side. Start with both arms and legs lifted and increase the speed for a more challenging exercise.
Purpose: Strengthens the abdominals and hip flexors.
1. Lie on your back with your arms flat on the mat, palms facing down, and slightly abducted from your body. Your knees are bent and feet are flat on the mat.
2. Push your palms into the floor and lift your legs off the mat and into tabletop. This is your starting position.
3. Inhale to prepare, then exhale to sequentially peel your spine off the mat, sweeping your arms round and reaching forwards, whilst simultaneously lengthening your legs. Inhale to squeeze your thighs and remember to keep your core engaged.
4. Exhale to roll the spine back under control, bringing the arms back to the mat and bending the knees into tabletop.
Perform 3 to 5 repetitions.
Purpose: Develops core strength.
1. Begin on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips.
2. Inhale to extend your legs away from your body into a plank position.
3. Exhale to lift one leg up inline with your spine, then inhale to return it back. Repeat on the other leg.
Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions, keep your core engaged throughout and avoid allowing your hips to sink down.
Purpose: Develops core strength, knee and shoulder mobility, and co-ordination.
1. Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and your knees bent at a right angle. Inhale and lift your head and shoulders off the mat. This is your starting position.
2. Exhale whilst extending your arms and legs at the same time, as shown in the image. Reach long as though trying to touch the wall in front and behind you.
3. Inhale whilst circling your arms back down to your sides. At the same time, bend your knees back to a right angle position.
Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions and keep your core engaged throughout. This exercise can also be performed with your head and shoulders on the mat.
You may have noticed that breathing is mentioned a lot in Pilates. In fact, it’s one of the six fundamental principles of Pilates, along with concentration, control, centring, precision and flow. Why is it so important though?
Lateral breathing, which is used in Pilates, refers to inhaling into the lower back and the sides of the ribcage. Unlike shallow breathing, lateral breathing reduces tension in the neck and shoulders due to it using fewer muscles in those areas. It also helps to stabilise and stretch the spine during exercise and, by breathing into the sides instead of the diaphragm, it allows the abdominal muscles to remain engaged.
Practicing lateral breathing
You can practice lateral breathing by first placing your hands onto the side of your ribs. As you inhale through your nose and into your lower back and sides of the ribcage, you will feel your ribcage expand and your hands will move away from your body. Then, as you exhale through your mouth and air leaves the lungs, your hands will move back in.
Lateral breathing can also be very calming and is therefore great to use during relaxation. Remember to inhale and exhale fully and deeply for optimum benefits.
Newcomers to Pilates sometimes find that it takes them a couple of sessions to adjust to the breathing pattern adopted in Pilates. It’s common in Pilates (and other forms of exercise) to inhale to prepare for a movement, and then exhale on the movement. This is because the act of exhaling relaxes and mobilises the body, helping movements to flow freely.
Using the shoulder bridge as an example, this is how the breathing pattern may be adopted:
Lying with your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, inhale deeply through the nose and into the sides and back on the ribcage. Then, as you exhale through the mouth, lift the lower back off the mat and into bridge position. Inhale to hold the position, then exhale to return the lower back down to the mat.