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Fitness 101: Four pilates exercises to give you an all-over workout


Pilates reformer beds have a slightly medieval feel about them, with their straps, springs, pulleys and attachments. In fact, the Universal Reformer (its technical name) is a modern-day stretching rack that strengthens and elongates muscles without adding unnecessary bulk. Joanne Miller met with Pilates instructor, Veronique Bobilier, at the PowerMoves Dempsey studio to learn how to get an all-over workout with just four exercises.

Reform School 101

The reformer is a bed-like frame with a flat but moveable platform, known as the carriage. It rolls back and forth on wheels within the frame. The carriage is attached to one end of the reformer by a set of springs, which provide varying resistance levels as the carriage is pushed or pulled. Shoulder blocks keep you from sliding off the end as you push or pull the carriage.

An adjustable foot bar located near the springs is where you place your feet or hands as you move the carriage. Some exercises use long straps with handles that are attached to the top end of the frame. These are engaged by either your legs or arms to move the carriage. Body weight and spring resistance are what make the carriage more or less difficult to move.

Single-Leg Skating (targets glutes and quads)

1.Stand sideways on the foot platform with one leg placed on the front edge of the carriage and inhale.
2.Squat deeply, keeping your weight on the standing leg and your hands on your hips.
3.As you exhale, straighten the working leg completely by pushing the carriage away. Keep your standing leg stable, your trunk upright and your pelvis level.

Spring adjustment: light for intermediate level and medium for advanced level.

The Hundreds (targets abdominals)

Strong and defined abdominals remain at the top of most people’s ideal body wish list. If you have layers of subcutaneous fat, you’re going to have to do cardio exercise regularly, eat clean and do hard-hitting core exercises such as The Hundreds. Remember: a stronger core leads to better balance, posture and overall wellbeing.

1.Lie on your back with your knees bent.
2.Align your legs to “table-top position” (your shins and ankles parallel to your knees).
3.Place your hands in the straps and keep your arms perpendicular to your bod.
4.Inhale to begin and, on the exhale, lift your head and chest using your abdominal muscles to curl your upper spine off the floor, while lowering your arms to your sides and extending your legs upwards.
5.Keep your shoulders engaged as you extend your arms, reaching with your fingertips to try and touch your toes.
6.Your gaze should be soft and on your abdominals. Remember to breathe and try not to tense up.
7.While in this position, take five short breaths in and then five out. Pump your arms up and down as you inhale and exhale for counts of five.
8.Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed as you contract your abdominal muscles, which will help maintain your strong upper back. A cycle of 10 full breaths means you’re done and it’s time to move onto the next exercise.

Spring adjustment: light for beginners and medium for intermediate level.

Spring To It

Once you’ve perfected the form, which is critical, you can then up the ante by switching the reformer springs to increase the resistance. The instability of a rolling carriage with the springs set at different levels of resistance provides stability challenges that develop core strength and promote better balance. Positioning less of your body on the carriage is one way to make the exercises more challenging, as you engage your core to support more of your body weight and the machine. Surprisingly, some exercises are more challenging when the springs are on a lighter setting because you have to work even harder to control and stabilise your movement.

The Plank (targets abdominals and lower back)

1.Begin with your feet on the foot platform and your hands on the shoulder rests.
2.Your legs should be stretched out behind you; forearms parallel to the shoulder rests. Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists.
3.Keep your abdominals contracted and away from the carriage as you extend your spine.
Tip: It’s important to contract the abdominals to avoid adding pressure on your lower back. Keep your shoulders broad but relaxed (away from your ears) and lengthen your ribcage
4.Your neck is an extension of your spine, so your head should not drop down or tilt up. Engage your “powerhouse” (abdominals, pelvic floor, glutes, lower back muscles and muscles around the hip joints) to stabilise the reformer’s moveable carriage.
5.Breathe fully as you hold the pose for 30 seconds.

Spring adjustment: heavy for intermediate level and medium for advanced level.

Hug a Tree (targets shoulders and pectorals)

1.Kneel upright on the carriage with feet against the shoulder rests.
2.Holding your arms out to the side in a T-position, keep your elbows straight without locking them.
3.Inhale to begin.
4.On the exhale, draw your arms toward each other until parallel at shoulder height.
5.Inhale to open your arms away from each other and return to what is almost starting position, keeping your elbows soft and your abdominals engaged. Your hands should still be within your peripheral vision.
6.Keep your back and shoulders broad, your neck long and your face free of tension.

Spring adjustment: light for intermediate level and medium for advanced level.

The Lowdown on Reformer Pilates

Originally designed by Joseph Pilates to treat injured and bedridden soldiers in World War I, Pilates blends Eastern exercise philosophies (yoga and Chinese martial arts’ mental focus and breathing) with Western fitness science (the physicality of gymnastics and other sports). Today, it’s widely practised for rehabilitation, fitness and body conditioning.

The emphasis is on controlled power and flowing movement. It’s proven effective in rehabilitative and clinical therapy, given the strong focus on excellent posture, efficient movement and strengthening of musculature. Controlled, low-impact movements and correct breathing help to ease pain and stiffness.

Pilates is especially useful in sports conditioning and preventing injury as it is low-impact and easy on the joints. Balance, coordination and circulation are all notably improved with regular practice. It’s also ideal if you’re suffering from postural and biomechanical problems such as chronic neck, shoulder, back, hip or knee pain. It’s one of the most effective forms of exercise to strengthen the core, which improves stability and corrects posture.

PowerMoves Pilates in the Park has three studios located at Bishan Park, Dempsey Hill and Rochester Park.
6472 2221 | powermoves.com.sg