Do you make these mistakes when doing Pilates?

Pilates is now hugely popular amongst the health care sector and the general public due to it’s focus on strengthening the spine by working core stability muscles.

These core muscles attach directly to our spine and so if we actively work them we can help to reduce aches and pains and prevent future injuries.

Pilates is also about posture and becoming more attuned to our own body position and tweaking and correcting it as we go.

BUT, Pilates is not as easy as it appears and this is where some people can do MORE HARM THAN GOOD if they have not had their basic training.

Like anything you need to know the FOUNDATIONS and key underlying principles to get the MOST benefits from your Pilates practise.

If you get these right, you will avoid the common mistake most people make in Pilates.

So where do most people tend to go wrong? Below I have listed the classic problem areas.

Can you find and feel your core stability muscles?

In essence, I’m referring to your lower tummy muscles – the transverse abdominals and your pelvic floor muscles. (Our other core stability muscles are our diaphragm and multifidus). Chances are if you struggle to isolate these muscles then you will struggle to exercise safely in Pilates.

Like any muscle they can take three – six months to strengthen so if you’re muscles are de-conditioned then your first port of call is to start getting familiar with your core.

Ideally a 1:1 session teaching you how to find your core stability muscles is advisable before commencing Pilates if you suffer with any aches and pains to ensure you can do this safely and correctly.

To feel your lower tummy muscles correctly visualise wearing a low slung belt around your hips and imagine you are tightening it three notches in. You should feel your lower tummy muscles drawing in towards your spine. A bit like if you walk into a freezing cold sea – you naturally draw in your core muscles.

It’s equally important to work your pelvic floor muscles correctly. To do this visualise your in a room full of people and you don’t want to let wind, squeeze your back passage shut and imagine drawing that wind back up and in. Next visualise you are desperate for a wee and there’s a huge queue for the toilets, squeeze your bladder passage closed and imagine drawing that wee back up and in.

Throughout your Pilates practise you should be able to hold and maintain these muscles working at about 30% of their maximum effort. So that means when you start a Pilates exercise you switch on the muscles before you start to move and you switch them off when you finish moving.

If your core stability muscles are weak, you may need to switch them on and then off after each repetition of the movement you are performing until you increase your endurance strength.

Can you keep your spine in a neutral position throughout your Pilates practise?

This is tricky for those people with reduced pelvic tilt movement or difficulty feeling and finding their back in it’s neutral position. If you are lying down in the classic Pilates rest position (knees bent, feet flat on the floor) then visualise you have a soup bowl resting on your tummy. Imagine taking a drink out of the soup bowl tilting your pelvis towards your face – you should feel your lower back flattening into the mat. Next, imagine tipping the soup bowl down the sink and tilting your pelvis away from you. Your back should now arch away from the mat. Find the middle between these two positions to find your neutral spine position.

You need to be able to set your centre maintaining your spinal neutral position. i.e. your lower back should not be moving during your Pilates practise unless the purpose of the exercise is to mobilise the spine.

The rest position is often where other mistakes occur.

Can you keep your pelvis level?

If you can’t maintain your pelvis level like a spirit level in the rest position then you will often feel your pelvis tipping or rocking. During your exercises imagine balancing a drinks tray across your pelvis and keep it level. Your pelvis will often tip or rock if your gluteal (buttock) muscles are weak and not supporting the pelvis and helping to maintain it’s stability.

Can you keep your pelvis still and not clench your buttocks all the time?

This is harder than it sounds but many of us squeeze our bottom muscles together to try and maintain our pelvis in a neutral position. This causes are lower back to flatten into the mat often and we loose our spinal neutral position.

A lot of people think that by squeezing their gluts together they are activating their natural core muscles. What they are really doing is using their big muscles the gluts to work instead of their core stabiliser muscles.

It’s actually really hard to isolate a core stability muscle that only works at 30% maximum volume contraction. Most of us want to work the muscle as hard as we can to get the quickest results. Unfortunately when practising Pilates this is not the case and people find it very difficult to do the “less is more’ principle.

Can you relax muscles that should not be working?

Another interesting one is people feeling ‘it’ in other muscles. So a leg lift in side lying with a sore neck suggests overactive neck muscles that are badly positioned or trying to lift your leg for you. That speaks volumes in itself.

If we can get the neck muscles to relax and switch off which is often created by altering your head posture then we can let the leg muscles lift the leg and not the neck.

Sounds absurd, but I see it time and time again in class.

Working in the rest position for those with tight hip flexors is often impossible as the front of the hip is trying to work like mad to keep the leg stable whilst you lift the opposite knee for example. Your gluts should be stabilising your pelvis here and not the muscles in the front of your hip.

Putting your lower back into a posterior pelvic tilt over a ball for example can help relax the hip flexors or resting the leg over a pillow to help them switch off and lengthen can also help.

Your body is clever at trying to adapt so you can do the desired movement.

But, the strategy it uses is not always a helpful one!

If you would like to know more about common pitfalls made in Pilates then I have a series of you tube video’s showing you classic Pilates moves and the common errors we often see in class and how to correct them.

You can find them at Marie Fell – The Pilates physio you tube account.