Perfect that knee fold

This week in my classes I’ve been focusing on pelvis weight and neutral pelvis. It can be all so easy to forget the basics of Pilates and getting away from these makes the exercises easier so you get less benefits.

When lifting your legs (for example knee folds) you want to be using your lower abdominals to do the work. If not your lower back will end up compensating, leading to a weak core and over-worked lower back.

Set yourself up in neutral, focus on the hip bones being level and you being flat from hip bones to pubic bone. To check gently rock the pelvis up, then tuck it under and rest in the middle of these two movements.

Now feel the weight of the pelvis. As you focus on this, feel your feet getting lighter. You should find that as your pelvis gets heavier and your feet lighter your lower abdominals engage, so your core switches on. This is the position you should be starting your knee folds and all exercises that stem from these from.

Pilates with Priya: single knee fold

Always better to start slow and find a place where your abdominals are able to support your legs, and with some people their legs might be too heavy for their abs to hold. Start small and build up slowly. You will get stronger.

5 mistakes you could be making in Pilates

1. Not using your breathing:

The breathing is often the tricky part for people as it feels back to front! However it really is crucial to breath correctly to get your core really activated. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts downward drawing in air. When you exhale, the diaphragm returns pushing air out. The core muscles act as a brace around your spine to support and protect your back. Practise breathing with your core engaged, with every out breath feeling the strength of your core. Generally in Pilates you exhale on the hardest part of the exercise when you need the most core strength.

2. Neutral Pelvis.

Neutral pelvis is when the pubic bone and hipbones are  level and in the same plane. This means that the pelvis is not tucked under (bum under, back into the mat) or tilted back (bum stuck out, larger arch in back). If your pelvis is tilted back pressing you lower back right into the mat for exercises such as the hundred, your spine is not being supported securely, your abs will engage but you will not get the same benefits for your back.

Pilates with Priya: Neutral Spine

3. Neck Strain:

Your upper abdominals should be used when you are doing anything in a curled up position in Pilates. To help you use these properly and not strain your neck you need to get the correct neck alignment. Start with a small chin nod, and then use your upper abs to curl up, never lead with your head or neck when curling up. Always keep enough space for a small orange between your chin and your chest. You shouldn’t  feel too much stress in your neck. You can always modify those exercises by keeping your head resting on the mat.
4. Lower abs support your legs.

When lifting your legs (for example knee folds) you need to make sure that the majority of the weight of your legs is supported by your lower abdominals. Your legs should almost feel light as feathers, with your neutral pelvis in place. Practice lying on your back and feeling your pelvis getting heavy and your feet getting light, then bring your knees (one at a time) above your hips, keeping neutral pelvis.
5.  No Momentum.

In Pilates moving slowly and connecting every movement to your breath is key. Using momentum skips over muscles fibers and doesn’t allow you to build strength throughout the entire range of the muscle group needed to eventually accomplish the exercises correctly.  One example is the roll up. If done incorrectly, overtime you can actually put more tension in your back and hip flexors.  Many people do not have a flexible enough spine to execute the roll up without using momentum.  To help build strength and flexibility try bringing the mat to your body, by adding a small pillow or folded towel where your spine is less flexible. Many people think quick moves equals more burn, but slow, steady movements work the deep core muscles to their fullest ability.


Perfect your Posture

Think about it, however often in your day do you pay attention to your posture? If you don’t do Pilates then I am guessing the answer is not often if at all. Yet our posture plays a large role in how we look, walk, sit and feel on a day to day basis. Bad posture can result in back, neck and shoulder pain along with too tight muscles in some areas and overstretched, weakened muscles elsewhere. Over time poor posture can result in disc issues and degneration of joints.

So in the next few posts I am going to talk through different types of posture, hopefully this will help you identify your own postural imbalances, make you more aware, so that you can focus on correcting the problems.

posture picture

In this post we are going to recap on Neutral Spine in a lying position.

Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine — cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) — are present and in good alignment. This is the strongest position for the spine when we are standing or sitting, and the one that we are made to move from. Knowing how to find the neutral spine position is crucial for doing many Pilates exercises correctly.

Neutral spine lying down:

1. Feet hip socket distance apart, flat on the floor, straight and facing forward.

2. Knees bent, a small gap between them.

3. Pelvis rocked into neutral so it is neither tilted up (lower back pressed into the floor) or tilted under (large curve through the lower back). The hip bones should be lined up and you should feel you are flat from hip bone to hip bone and through to the pubic bone.

4. Slight natural curve through the lower back, think about being able to pass an envelope underneath.

5. Shoulder blades slid down in the back.

6. Neck long with the chin slightly tilted towards the chest as if you were clasping an orange between your chin and your chest.


Just lying in this neutral position can help with back ache, try lying there for 5 minutes, release the tension in your neck and shoulder, drawing your core and relax yout bum, thighs and feet. Take a few deep breaths. Feels good doesn’t it!


Top Tips on Maintaining Neutral Spine and Pelvis

Neutral pelvis is a funny concept where we aim to keep the pelvis neither tilted up or under but in “neutral alignment”. The idea is to have a straight line from hip bone to hip bone and to be flat from that hip bone area all the way through to the pubic bone. With Neutral spine it can be simpler to think of the spine being straight, however this isn’t actually true! When lying down there will be a slight natural curve in the lower back, for some this will be bigger than others. Think about being able to pass an envelope underneath your lower back and get your instructor to check if you are not sure.
Most people find getting into neutral is relatively easy to achieve at the start of an exercise but maintaining it is the tricky bit. My top tips are to:

1. Think about the lower back being heavy and almost sinking into the back (we don’t actually want it to do this but the imagery can help)
2. Think about there being a heavy weight on the ribcage holding you down to the mat.
3. Keep the sides of the body long and strong to hold you still.
4. Think about the core being weighty as this is what is keeping you in neutral.

If you feel yourself coming out of neutral, stop the exercise, check your core is drawn in and then try again. You may need to make the movement smaller until your body is a bit stronger.