By Emilie Battle • Edited by Amanda Altman
Having worked as a Pilates teacher first, and then a personal trainer and small-group fitness instructor second, it didn’t take long to realize that a mind/body component was missing from strength training. Throughout private sessions and classes, I noticed that my clients were “powering through” moves, focusing on speed and sweat, instead of mindfulness. They didn’t understand how to properly and fully engage their core, or how they could achieve better balance in single-leg work, or worse, why they felt pressure in their back in Plank exercises. The solution was obvious: They needed Pilates.
I began to incorporate a Pilates warm-up in my strength-training sessions and classes. As clients learned about their transverse abdominis, pelvic floor and breath, I noticed that their workouts significantly improved. Better yet, there were so many ah-ha moments: “I felt that in my core for the first time!” or “This was the first time this exercise didn’t kill my shoulders!” Clients started to recognize that movement shouldn’t be about shutting off their brains and mimicking the instructor. When they worked mindfully, their sessions were more effective.
Now I have clients who take my Pilates class in addition to their HIIT classes, as well as clients who spend the first 30 minutes of their personal-training session doing Pilates and the second half doing strength work. By taking strength-based classes, my Pilates clients reported increased endurance and a deeper breath connection. They’ve also developed more stamina that helps them execute the more advanced Pilates exercises.
This routine incorporates the best of both worlds—Pilates and strength training—and includes pushing and pulling and multi-joint movements to deliver a full-body workout that will increase strength and stability while getting your heart rate up. By using heavier weights and a stability ball, you have no choice but to recruit the deep-core stabilizers that we focus on in Pilates. The core is always working; sorry, but you can’t escape it!
Props: set of 10-pound (or heavier) hand weights; medium stability ball
Breath: Inhale to prepare, and exhale with movement.
• Staying focused on your pelvic floor and transverse (your deepest abdominals) is key to success.
• To progress, increase the weight for the strength exercises. Just remember: The heavier you go, the more core recruitment is required.
• All of these exercises target different muscle groups (shoulders, chest, back and legs) and would work great as a circuit. If you’re up for it, do the Pilates exercises once as a quick warm-up, and then do 3–5 rounds of the strength exercises!
• If the strength exercises are challenging already, use a lighter weight; do the Plank exercises on your knees.
• Do this workout two to three times a week for optimal results. Slow down, moving at a challenging yet efficient way to reap all the benefits!
SET #1: Double-Leg Stretch + Reverse Lunge with Overhead Press
Why they work well together: Double-Leg Stretch recruits the core stabilizers while promoting a strong, supported pelvic position and deep, consistent breath to prep the body for the challenging stability and strength work in the Reverse Lunge. If your core is strong and engaged, you should be able to perform the lunge—and increase shoulder and leg strength—without putting any pressure on your spine.
Do this if… you struggle to keep your lower back or shoulders from collapsing in Plank, or if you want to strengthen your abdominals and hip flexors.
Double Leg Stretch
Start: Lie on your back with your legs in tabletop, head and shoulder curled off the floor, and arms reaching forward by your hips.
Move: Inhale as you lengthen your arms back by your ears and extend your legs on a diagonal. Exhale as you return to start. Do 8–10 reps.
Tips: As you reach your arms and legs out, be careful not to expand your rib cage. Keep your lower back in contact with the floor throughout. For more stretch, place your hands on your ankles and pull your legs toward your chest when you come back in.
Make it easier: If you’re having trouble maintaining the supported pelvis position, bring your legs higher.
Make it harder: Lower your legs.
Reverse Lunge with Overhead Press
Start: Stand with your feet together while holding the weights on your shoulders. Inhale to prepare.
Move: Exhale as you step one foot back into a lunge while extending your arms overhead. Inhale as you return to start. Repeat on your other side. Do 10–12 reps, alternating legs.
Tips: When extending your arms overhead, make sure they’re in line with the back of your ears so you engage your rear deltoids and upper back. Focus on keeping your ribs closed and drawing your belly button into your spine.
Make it easier: If you’re unable to fully extend your arms while maintaining proper alignment, decrease or omit the weights.
SET #2: Swan + Renegade Rows
Why they work well together: Swan promotes strength in the back and triceps, as well as stability through the pelvic floor and transverse, while lengthening the spine. The rows put hip and core stability to the test while further strengthening the back and triceps.
Start: Lie facedown with your palms on the floor by your shoulders (or slightly forward) and your legs slightly wider than your hips. Inhale to prepare.
Move: Exhale as you float your head, shoulders, ribs and belly off the floor, keeping your hip bones grounded. Inhale as you lengthen back to start. Do 6–8 reps.
Tips: Don’t let your shoulders float up to your ears as you lift your upper body—keep them on your back. Don’t forget about your transverse and pelvic floor here!
Make it easier: If you’re getting into your shoulders, decrease your range of motion. If you feel pressure in your low back, separate your legs a little wider.
Start: Get into Plank, with your feet slightly wider than your hips, while holding onto the weights, which are on the floor directly underneath your shoulders. Inhale to prepare.
Move: Exhale as you bend one elbow, retracting your shoulder and drawing the weight to your rib cage while keeping your hips stable. Inhale as you repeat on your other side. Do 10–12 reps, alternating sides.
Tips: Imagine that there are headlights on your hip bones; make sure that you’re illuminating the floor throughout. Deeply recruit your transverse and pelvic floor muscles to fight the rotation of your hips. Think of bringing your belly button to your spine, while bringing your spine to your belly button, and imagine that you’re sucking through your “pelvic straw.”
Make it easier: If holding the weights is too difficult, place one on the floor between your hands and alternate.