The Number One Skill To Master To Make Your Pilates Workouts More Effective

Each month, a new trainer takes us through four of the best workouts they have in their back pocket. Follow along weekly for new ways to sweat it out with us. See All

From the outside, mat Pilates can look either like a lot of laying down, or like a series of confusing limb movements. What’s all that lifting, lowering, and fluttering supposed to be working?

Practitioners know that most Pilates exercises, big or small, work your muscles in non-obvious ways. That’s because coordinating your breath to the movement is an integral part of the workout, challenging your core—and other muscle groups—with every inhale and exhale.

Experts In This Article

“We’re waking up the deep core with that exhale and that inhale,” explains Pilates instructor Brian Spencer of East River Pilates.

In this new 25-minute video, Spencer takes us through a well-rounded Pilates workout designed for beginners and more experienced practitioners alike. He begins with the foundation of mat Pilates: the ability to find a neutral pelvis and thus engage your core. But what the heck does that actually mean?

“When we find our neutral pelvis, it will just mean that the pelvic bone and tailbone are stacked with a little space under your lower back,” Spencer says. Helpfully, he adds that your pubic bone is located a few fingers below your belly button.

Once you’ve gotten a feel for your foundational core position, if you’re finding staple moves a bit confounding, Spencer shares some common variations that can be helpful starting points.

For example, to work up to table top, you can begin with heel glides. This involves laying on your back with a neutral pelvis. Then, you lift your toes, which engages the hamstrings, and you pull your legs in and lead them back out. This mimics the movement of leg lifts and lowers in table top position without the added weight that holding your leg off of the floor requires.

“I love a good heel guide,” Spencer says. “It’s an extremely effective exercise for building coordination of breath and abdominals.”

Spencer leads us through similar ways to work up to classic Pilates moves like roll ups and roll downs, forearm and side planks, and more. But really, once you’ve mastered the neutral pelvis, the world of mat Pilates is your oyster.

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