The pilates set up – how to find your perfect posture
After attending part one of my pilates teacher training course last week, I decided that I need to put some more time in to making sure that my clients are always working out with an optimal posture and core engagement. Since then I’ve taken a few people through the ‘pilates set up’ that I learnt on the course – working from the toes up to help people find their ideal posture and how to engage the core at a manageable level consistently. I've detailed that set up in stages below so that you can practice from home!
Begin by placing your feet together then toe-heel the feet outwards until the feet are pointing forwards and are directly below your hips.
Play around with your weight distribution by swaying forwards and backwards, and eventually come to settle at a point somewhere between the two where your weight feels evenly distributed over your whole foot (you should find that you can pick up and wiggle your toes quite easily).
Keep your knees soft - avoid hyper extending by locking the knee joints.
Try to lengthen out your spinal column as much as you can, standing tall. Shrug the shoulders to the ears and then roll them back until you feel your shoulder blades draw down your back. Leave the arms relaxed to the side of your body.
Imagine a piece of string attached to the crown of your head, lifting and lengthening you through the back of your neck. Try and keep the chin slightly tucked and lowered (a slight double chin sensation), and keep your eye line level on the horizon.
Place each hand on the front of your hip bones. Start tilting your pelvis backwards and forwards. Imagine that your pelvis is a bowl of water and by tipping your pelvis too far each way, some water will spill out. Start to make the movements smaller and smaller until, like with your weight distribution in the feet, you come to a position that is in between the two (your bowl of water would settle in the middle).
Then think about your core engagement. Imagine that you have a belt around your waist and that the belt has 10 notches. You put the belt right up to notch 10, but it’s far too tight and restrictive – you have to squeeze in your abdomen so hard. Then loosen the belt to notch number 5; it’s still tight but much less restrictive. Finally, loosen the belt to notch number 3. You should feel that you have a light engagement of the core, nothing too exhausting or straining, but you are not relaxed.
Next, a similar exercise for the pelvic floor – an extremely important part of our core that needs to be exercised equally. Imagine that your pelvic floor is like an elevator: draw it in and up as hard as you can – send it all the way to the top level of your building (level 10 for arguments sake). Like with the above, it should be too hard to keep it there for long. So drop it back down halfway, to level 5. Finally drop it just too more floors to level 3, so once again you are lightly engaged and not straining.
Finally, place both hands on your ribcage with your middle fingers touching. Inhale through the nostrils and concentrate on making your ribcage wider, thus taking the hands further apart – much like a set of curtains drawing open. Exhale through the lips and let the hands (or curtains) draw back together. This is known as lateral thoracic breathing. Unlike full belly breathing which you may practice in yoga, it allows you to keep up the engagement with the core muscles. Please note that not one is better than the other – they are both different and have different purposes.
So there you have a step-by-step guide how to find an ideal posture. It will take practice, but the more regularly you take yourself through these steps, the more you’ll start to find them becoming second nature. Good luck!