Even though I have worked hard to teach you the correct alignment and form while performing AeroPilates from my DVDs, I want to share some helpful tips that will ensure the maximum benefit from your workout.
1. Imprinting or flattening your Spine versus maintaining Neutral Spine
When you move through life it is important to have good posture which maintains the natural "S" curves of your spine. These include a concave cervical or neck curve, a convex thoracic or upper back curve, a concave lumbar or lower back curve and a naturally convex coccyx. Through Pilates we teach that you should aim for a neutral spine throughout most movements.
Try this, lie on the floor with your feet flat and your knees bent, inhale and exaggerate a pelvic tilt by tucking your coccyx under and up, now roll your pelvis down by arching your back into an exaggerated pelvic arch. Half way in between these exaggerated positions is your neutral spine. When doing any type of Pilates movement you always want to aim for a neutral spine. However, if your abdominal muscles are weak you may feel the need to imprint the lower back by flattening the lumbar curve and having your back connect with the platform.
As an example let´s look at the Warm-up Footwork. When lying down on the platform try to push away from the foot bar with a small space under the lumbar spine or lower back. Whenever you lift your legs in the air into the chair position or at 45 degrees as in The Hundred, aim to keep the spine neutral even when the natural tendency is for the spine to imprint. When your legs are raised and in the straps as in Leg Lowers it is still important that you work to maintain a neutral spine. However, it is always more important to stabilize the pelvis than to neutralize the spine. Maintaining a neutral spine will become less challenging as you become stronger in the abdominals, even when your legs are moving and in the air.
2. The Cervical Nod or lifting of the Head
When asked to raise your head off the neck rest it is important to do so carefully. Your head always remains a natural extension of your spine so you must not arch it or tilt it forward. As you lift your head gently nod forward drawing the chin down slightly but without creating wrinkles in the skin of the neck. When lifting the torso the aim is to lift the shoulders until the tips of your scapulas or backs of your shoulder blades are touching the platform.
3. More Cords versus Less
Typically we are taught that more resistance makes it harder to perform an exercise but in Pilates this is not necessarily so. The cords provide resistance to the movement of the platform away from the foot bar. This movement of the platform is usually achieved by pulling on the straps with the feet and hands or pushing away from the foot bar with the feet or hands. The muscles used for this task are our large mobilizing ones. Dragging the platform back in however involves the engagement of the abdominal muscles or the adductors of the legs and arms. These muscles are smaller and referred to as our stabilizing muscles.
In Pilates we focus on initiating every movement by engaging the stabilizing muscles before we begin to put weight on the mobilizing muscles of the arms and legs. Consequently, as we become proficient at Pilates we tend to reduce the number of resistance cords as we get stronger, thereby often making the movement more difficult.
If we look at The Elephant exercise, you will see that you use your arms to stabilize the upper body. The lower body moves by pushing the platform back using the back of the heels and the hamstrings. More cords makes these mobilizing muscles work harder. Dragging the platform back towards the foot bar requires the use of the lower pelvic floor and abdominal stabilizing muscles which is made more difficult by using fewer cords. I recommend that before you progress from Level 1 to 2 or Basic to Intermediate, that you attempt each exercise with one more and one less cord so that you truly understand this concept of "less cords is actually more work".
4. When to Breathe
Joe Pilates believed in inhaling at the beginning of each movement to draw in oxygen and exhaling at the end to expel all the stale air out of the lungs thus leaving the body feeling more invigorated. The easiest way to understand this is by exhaling where you feel the most exertion and require the most stabilization.
This method protects your back and so I recommend that you try Joe Pilates method of breathing. Inhale as you open and expand or extend your body and exhale as you close, contract or flex your body. However, if you have weak abdominal or stabilizing muscles then begin by breathing out when the exertion is the greatest and as you develop stronger stabilizers slowly try to incorporate this reverse method of breathing and see how you feel.
5. Don´t give Up
Because my machine is designed to be used at home without the supervision of a trainer there are times when a new user may feel afraid to try an exercise that looks intimidating or uncomfortable. Firstly, I want to reassure you that all the exercises are safe and that the instruction is geared to you being on your own. Secondly, you should always take sensible liberty to modify any exercise as you intuitively see fit.
Here is a list of common modifications:
Learn more: Common Mistakes made in the Elephant Series