Feeling sore and slumped from working from home? Pilates teacher and friend of Urban Lotty Somers is here to help with 10 exercises to improve your posture.
Joseph Pilates famously once said “You’re only as young as your spine is flexible”. When we think of ‘ideal posture’ in Pilates, we are looking for the spine to be in correct alignment, following the three natural curves which are present. One of the most common questions I’m asked as a Pilates teacher is “can Pilates help to improve my posture?” The short answer is yes, but there are many factors which come together through the regular practice of Pilates, which contribute to maintaining good postural habits.
Pilates is a great way to mobilise our joints, so we are able to work them through a full range of motion and move freely without tension. Each exercise trains us to use our muscles efficiently in order to improve strength and provide additional support throughout the body. In addition to this, you can expect to increase the flexibility of your muscles to help alleviate any strain.
It’s not just physical benefits which come from improved posture. When we feel able to stand tall and move without constraint, we tend to radiate more confidence. In addition to this, the use of breath in Pilates can help reduce stress and leave us feeling instantly lighter, so it’s a great way to boost our mood and improve our overall mental health and wellbeing.
With many of us currently working from home, sat at makeshift desks or sitting in an unsupportive chair, we may have started to adopt a more hunched and rounded posture. Add to this more hours spent slumped on the sofa or staring down at our phones and it’s evident we’re placing more strain than ever on our spines. All of these actions force our upper vertebrae into excessive forward flexion, which can lead to back pain, shoulder and neck tension, headaches and even poor digestion, so striving for better posture has never been so important.
There are many simple Pilates exercises which can instantly help you work towards better posture and alignment. Below I’ve listed 10 exercises you can try at home and explained some of the key ways they can benefit the body. You can try these in a sequence together in the video below. By the end of the 20 minutes, I hope you’ll feel more mobilised, energised and a whole two inches taller than when you started!
10 Pilates exercises to try at home:
Neutral and imprint of the pelvis
Move between a neutral alignment of the pelvis, following the natural curve in the lumbar spine and an imprinted position, where the pelvis tilts upwards and the lower back finds gentle contact with the floor.
- This can improve mobility of the pelvic girdle and lower back and help you to find your ideal neutral alignment.
With a neutral spine and pelvis and hands behind the head to support the neck, start to lift the head, neck and shoulder blades off the mat as you stabilise through the upper back and engage through the abdominal wall.
- Finding stability in a neutral pelvis provides the most efficient and effective way to engage the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles and the flexion in the upper back helps to improve mobility in the spine.
Named after the 100 pulses that you make with your arms, with legs in table top and your head, neck and shoulder blades hovering off the mat, start to pulse your arms up and down with energy and resistance through the palms.
- This exercise deepens the work for your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles as well as your shoulder stabilisers in the back to maintain the upper body flexion.
Lift your spine sequentially into your bridge position with thighs hip distance apart and hips level, until you create one long line from your shoulders to your knees.
- This exercise strengthens the posterior chain of the body, engaging the glutes and hamstrings to offer increased stabilisation and mobility in the spine.
Lying on your back with a neural spine, start to sequentially flex your spine off the mat one vertebrae at a time, passing the spine through imprint and using the abdominals to control the movement rather than momentum, before rolling back down to your starting position.
- An amazing way to improve mobility through the full length of the spine as well as improving strength in the core stabilisation muscles.
Sitting upright with legs out in front, imagine that you have a piece of string pulling you up through the crown of your head to lengthen through the spine, as you begin to twist the upper body, without moving your hips.
- One of the best exercises to improve mobility of the spine as you find rotation, as well as working the obliques, pelvic floor and upper back muscles.
Half roll back
Starting in an upright seated position with knees bent, begin to roll the spine backwards, finding flexion in the lumbar spine before returning to your starting position.
- This exercise helps to mobilise the spine as you move into flexion, in particular the lower back as you find a c-curve position.
With hands under your shoulder and knees under your hips, find a neural spine as you imagine you have a cup of tea balanced on our tailbone. Maintain this position as you extend the opposite arm and leg away from one another, alternating sides.
- This movement is a great way to engage your abdominal muscles to stabilise the pelvis and work the muscles in the arms and back to stabilise the spine.
With hands under shoulders, find one long line through the spine with your legs reaching behind you, or with knees bent on the mat. Keep your eye line long in front of your fingertips and maintain a neutral pelvis.
- Think of the plank as a full-body exercise, where every single muscle is engaged to support the body and also as an opportunity to lengthen and strengthen the spine.
Upper back extensor
Lying on your front with legs extended and with one hand stacked on top of the other to support your forehead, begin to lift the head, neck and shoulders off the mat, working though the upper back in isolation and keeping the eye line down.
- This movement enables you to stabilise the mid and lower back as you lift the upper back into extension and improves mobility and strength in the shoulder stabilisation and erector spinae muscles, which run down the length of the spine.