Alan Herdman, one of the industry’s foremost experts, schools you on preparing the body for two of the method’s most challenging moves.
By Alan Herdman • Modeled by Mauro Ossola • Edited by Amanda Altman
If we had a dime for every time someone said “Pilates looks easy” and then tried it, only to report it was “much harder than I had thought!” we’d be (Pilates) swimming in money. But whether you’re a beginner or have been working on your practice for years, there are always exercises that are tough to execute, let alone master.
So we were excited when Alan Herdman let us in on his series of pre-Pilates exercises. “All of the muscles of the body are not always ready for the 34 classical Pilates exercises,” explains the renowned Pilates master, who was the first to bring the method across the pond to the UK. “Through pre-Pilates exercises, clients will understand how to align themselves in each of the positions and to coordinate the movements with the breath.”
The moves will also teach your muscles how to work precisely and efficiently. “You’ll learn how to isolate and control different muscle groups and create muscle memory that will allow you to engage the abs, the glutes and the lats,” adds Alan.
Here, Alan examines two of the method’s tougher classical mat exercises: Side-Bend and Twist. “I rate these exercises as two of the more difficult in the mat repertoire because of the potential problems of balance and alignment,” says Alan. “These problems surface when the correct muscle groups are not strong enough or are not recruited correctly. Both exercises are often performed at speed, but for deep and correct execution, all of the Pilates principles, plus balance and alignment, must be in evidence.”
Before you delve into the full-out Side-Bend and Twist, study up on Alan’s preparatory moves, which will help you execute them to your best ability.
The following moves will prepare your body for the Twist and the Side-Bend, ensuring that the correct muscles are recruited. For support, some of them call for props, like a pillow placed underneath the abdominals for the lumbar spine and a rolled towel underneath the ankles for tight feet.
Props: pillow and rolled towel
Purpose: strengthens the gluteal muscles to elongate the lumbar (lower) spine and recruit the transverse (deepest abdominal layer) and obliques (waist)
Setup: Lie on your stomach with a pillow underneath your abdominals and towel underneath your ankles. Your feet are slightly apart and hands are stacked underneath your forehead.
1. Inhale to prepare. Exhale, stabilizing your pelvis and engaging your abs, and imagine squeezing your abs, and squeeze your sitzbones together without allowing your legs to rotate.
2. Release and return to the starting position. Do 6 reps.
Tip: Try to feel your abs lengthening rather than contracting.
Modification: This exercise can also be done standing.
1. Inhale to prepare. Exhale as you slowly bend your left knee up to a right angle and in line with your hip.
2. Inhale, slowly lowering your foot back to the starting position. Do 6 reps, then repeat on your other leg.
Tips: Keep your legs parallel and pelvis stable at all times. If there is movement in your pelvis, stop the exercise and stretch out your hip flexors before continuing.
Advanced: To feel more work in the hamstring group, add a step to the move: From the bent-knee position, carefully lift your knee off the floor a few centimeters, then extend your lower leg, making sure that your upper leg remains still; lower your leg.
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Photography by Rod Foster; Hair and makeup by Amelia C & Co.; Alan’s sweater by Icebreaker; Mauro’s clothes by Icebreaker, socks by ToeSox