Group classes are a great way to get an affordable workout, and at Fuse we pride ourselves on providing precise cues, hands-on adjustments, and consistent feedback on form so that our students can get the most out of each session. If you’re looking to take your practice to the next level this year, there are also certain things you can keep in mind to make sure you are safely and effectively working your body every time you step foot in the studio. The next time you’re on the mat, reformer, chair, or ladder try these tips and we guarantee you’ll feel the burn like never before.
Many people associate mindfulness with yoga, but that doesn’t mean you can blow off the mind-body connection in your next Pilates class. Concentration is one of the six principles of Pilates because focusing on your breath and the way your muscles activate during exercises can help you get maximum value from each and every move you make on the mat or machine. Imagining your muscle fibers in motion will help you connect the brain to the brawn to boost the benefits of your time at the studio.
• Go Deep
If you’ve ever been in a class when someone requests “transverse abs” then you might know what it feels like to tap into your deepest layer of abdominals. When these so-called “deep abs” are working, it means you’re engaging both your rectus abdominus and your internal and external obliques to create one seriously hard core. Not sure if you’re engaging your transverse abdominals? Take a peek at your abs the next time you’re crunching, lifting, and twisting. If your belly is pooched, you’re only working the outermost layer of your abs (think the muscles you use when you’re sucking in your stomach as your crush walks by). To really go deep, focus on your exhale breaths and imagine cinching your abs up and IN (like you’re pulling your belly button up through your rib cage). It’s not the most appealing visual, but we promise you’ll like how the results look come swimsuit season.
• Pause to be Precise
“…and HOLD” might be the most dreaded phrase during any Pilates class, but that pause is there for a reason. Momentum is not your friend when it comes to moving with power and precision, so take advantage of the purposeful pauses in choreography to get the most out of each movement. The next time you’re drawing tiny circles with your thighs, suffering through an oh-so-slow roll down, or holding a plank for what seems like FOR-EV-ER, just remember: slow and steady wins the (strong, sexy) race.
• Master the Scoop
Many Pilates exercises emphasize a C-curved spine shape in order to strengthen and lengthen the abdominals and back muscles simultaneously. The key to mastering this move is to think of it as more than just tucking your pelvis. To properly “scoop” you should initiate your lower abdominals first to round your lower lumbar spine, then integrate your full body by continuing the movement to include your upper back (thoracic spine) and your head and neck (cervical spine). The move should feel like a big stretch for your entire spine and a good amount of work for the muscles around it, and that combination of strengthening and stretching results in a capital C-shape that allows you to power each exercise from your core.
• Stabilize Your Shoulders
Many of us suffer from poor posture thanks to desk-ridden day jobs and too many hours spent looking down at our mobile phones. Unfortunately that means we walk around with our shoulders up by our ears and neck and back tension that measures off the charts. Pilates emphasizes scapular stabilization by encouraging focused, dynamic movement through the shoulders rather than mindlessly allowing them rise or sink into stress-conditioned positions. How should that look? Think of rolling your shoulders lightly up and back or opening your collarbones and breathing between your shoulder blades. Practicing this Pilates principle will not only help you nail your next roll-up and power through a set of pushups, it will also help you walk, run, and bike with more power (not to mention avoid strain in your neck and shoulders while you browse Instagram in line at Whole Foods).
• Make Modifications Your Friend
Our instructors offer modifications for many exercises so that you can tailor each move to work best for your body. If you feel like you could safely challenge yourself more the next time you’re on the mat, try that optional pushup between plank sets, lower your legs another inch in your hundreds position, or reach your top arm to the ceiling during a side-lying leg series to add extra work for your obliques.
The same thing goes for modifications that are meant to make an exercise more accessible. Most of the time, Pilates can still be a safe and effective fitness choice for those who suffer from lower back pain, tender wrists, stiff shoulders, or tight hamstrings as long as exercises are practiced using proper modifications. And you should never think of modifications as taking the easy way out! Ask any Pilates instructor and they will be the first to tell you that they often modify certain exercises, and that’s because they know they will get much more out of a move when they practice it with proper modified form than if they suffer through it by tensing their body and straining their muscles. If you’re not sure whether you should be modifying in class, talk to one of our teachers so you can learn how to feel the burn in all the right places!