The last 10 days of March MATness include upper body strengthening, side bending, core strengthening, balance, spinal extension, and coordination. In short, this is where all of your preparation comes together into the beauty and magic of Contrology, or the Pilates Method.
Some of these exercises are challenging and may not be accessible to you at this moment. That is okay. Pilates is a practice and the more than you fine-tune each exercise in your Pilates practice, the better and easier some of these more complex exercises will become.
Thank you to everyone who has been playing along with our March MATness game on Instagram and Facebook. We will be drawing for two more prize winners. The first on Tuesday, March 24, for a Northwoods Pilates t-shirt, and the second on Wednesday, April 1, for your very own Theraband.
March 22: Hip Circles
Hashtag: #hipcircles #hiptwist
Repetitions: 3 each direction
Exercise: Begin by lifting the upper half of your body and supporting your weight on either your elbows or arms outstretched behind you. Your legs will be hugged together, reaching up toward the ceiling at 45 degrees. The movement is to draw small circles, alternating directions. Your goal is to really push the floor away with your arms so that your upper half of the body is not slumping down. Pull your belly in to lift the legs.
Modifications: Being on your elbows will be easier than with the arms outstretched. You can also modify this exercise by bending the knees and instead of doing circles, drop them from one side to the other like a can-can dancer.
March 23: Swimming
Repetitions: 10 counts
Exercise: Begin by lying on your stomach with your arms stretched overhead and legs reaching behind you. Inhale and lift up the arms/legs/head/chest as you begin to pump the arms and legs as if you were mechanically swimming. Imagine like you’re slapping the top of the water with your arms and legs on each movement. Hold up in this position for ten full breaths.
Modifications: If it’s uncomfortable lying on your stomach, you could try putting a blanket or pad under your hips for support. Likewise, if holding up in this position for 10 breaths is too intense, take some breaks or lower the number of repetitions.
March 24: Leg Pull Front and Back
Hashtag: #legpullfront #legpullback #legpulls
Repetitions: 3 each leg
Leg Pull Front. Begin in high plank. Lift one leg. Push forward on your other toes to slide your body forward a few inches, and then flex the foot to slide the body back to its starting position. Replace the lifted leg back down on the mat, lift the other leg, and repeat on the other side.
Leg Pull Back. Begin seated on the floor with your hands pressing into the mat slightly to the side and behind your hips. Lift your hips so that your weight is supported on your hands and feet. Inhale and lift one leg up toward the ceiling with the toes pointed. Exhale and lower the leg back down with the toes flexed. Switch to the other leg and continue alternating until you’ve done 3 on each side.
Leg Pull Front. Any version of plank will help you work up to this exercise. You can be on your hands or elbows. Likewise you can be on your toes or knees. Try to hold your core muscles strong to protect your low back and hold in the plank for 15, 30, 45, or 60 seconds.
Leg Pull Back. Trying to hold in the lifted position without the kicks is a good place to start. If it’s too intense on your wrists, you can roll a towel beneath the heel of the hands so that the wrists are at a more comfortable angle.
March 25: Kneeling Side Leg Kicks
Repetitions: 3 each leg
Exercise: The motion is the same as our side-lying side leg kicks, where we take the leg to hip height and gently sweep it front to back like a pendulum. Two pulses to the front with a flexed foot. Two pulses to the back with pointed toes. The difference is that you’ll have one knee and one arm planted on the ground while the other leg lifts to hip height and your other hand rests behind your head. It’s much more difficult here to keep the upper half of the body still as your leg moves, but that is still your goal.
Modifications: If it’s uncomfortable to kneel, place a towel or pad beneath the knee. You can try holding the starting position of this exercise without moving the leg for the kicks. It will be a lot of work to hold there and will help to open up the hips.
March 26: Side Bends
Repetitions: 3 each side
Exercise: Start resting on one hip with your legs either (a) stacked or (b) with the top leg resting just in front of the bottom leg. One hand will be directly underneath your shoulder, pushing down into the mat. The other hand will rest, palm up, on top of your top hip. Inhale and press into the mat with your bottom hand and feet to lift your body up into a side arc – like a rainbow. The top arm will sweep up and overhead as you lift. Exhale and bring the arm and body back down to rest on the mat.
Modifications: You can do side bend on your elbow instead of with an outstretched arm. You can also hold in either an elbow or extended-arm side plank to build up your strength before adding in the arching movement.
March 27: Boomerang
Repetitions: 3 each leg placement
Exercise: To begin, sit tall with one ankle crossed over the other and both hands pressing down into the mat beside you. Inhale and roll down through your spine up into a jackknife. Exhale and switch the cross of the legs as you begin to roll out of the jackknife. Inhale and roll up into your teaser with the ankles still crossed. Exhale and slowly lower the legs down to the mat as your arms reach behind your body. Inhale, hook your thumbs behind your body and lift both arms up to the ceiling as you round your spine forward. Exhale and circle the arms around to your ankles and stack your spine tall.
Modifications: Boomerang is a combination of parts of many exercises you’ve already seen: roll down, jackknife, teaser, double leg stretch, etc., and as such, practicing the component parts will help you eventually achieve Boomerang.
March 28: Seal and Crab
Hashtag: #seal #crab
Repetitions: 5-8 for Seal; 3 each leg placement for Crab
Seal. Begin seated with your knees bent and bottoms of your feet touching like a butterfly. Reach both hands inside of the legs and grab on to your ankles. Shift your weight back slightly so that you’re balancing on your sitz bones. Still holding onto the feet, open and close the legs three times to “clap” the feet like a seal. Inhale and roll back to your shoulder blades, exhale and roll back up to find your balance and repeat the claps.
Crab. Begin like Seal. Roll back to your shoulder blades, pause there, take the hands out from between the legs, cross the legs at the ankles and grab onto the top of each foot. Exhale and roll forward until your body comes over the legs and the top of your head gently rests on the mat. Inhale and lift your belly to roll back to the shoulder blades and repeat the exercise by crossing the legs the other direction.
Modifications: Seal and Crab are both advanced rolling exercises. Practicing Rolling Like a Ball or Open Leg Rocker is great preparation for these exercises.
March 29: Rocking
Exercise: Lying on your stomach, bend both knees and reach your arms long down at your sides to grab onto the top of each foot. Push your feet into your hands to lift your body into extension. Being careful to initiate this movement from your core and from the pressure of your feet into your hands, rock your body front to back.
Modifications: Sometimes reaching one or both feet isn’t possible. You can use a small loop around the foot to hold on. If that’s the case, skip the rocking movement and just focus on the stretch.
March 30: Control Balance
Repetitions: 3 each leg
Exercise: Start lying on your back. Roll up into a jackknife position. Slowly bring one arm back overhead and then the other so that you’re balancing on your shoulder blades with both legs reaching up toward the ceiling. On an inhale, lower one leg down toward your head while the other leg continues reaching high toward the ceiling. You can carefully reach up to grab the lowered leg and pull it three times toward your head for a hamstring stretch. Exhale and lift the lowered leg back up to meet its mate. Repeat on the other side.
Modifications: Control Balance is a combination of jackknife and scissors, and so practicing these two exercises will help you build capacity for Control Balance if it isn’t accessible right away.
March 31: Push-ups
Repetitions: 3 sets; 1 on toes; 1 each leg
On Toes. Begin standing with your heels together and toes apart. Slowly lift the heels off of the mat but keep them touching one another. Reach your arms up toward the ceiling and then begin to curl your spine forward and down toward the mat while balancing on your toes. Bend your knees when you need so that your hands reach the mat. Walk out onto your hands until you come into a high plank. Keeping your elbows tucked in at your sides, do three push-ups. Walk your hands back toward your feet and then slowly roll back up to standing. Once you’ve found your balance at the top, relax your heels back down to the mat.
On one leg. The same movement except rather than lifting the heels, plant one foot flat on the mat and lift the other leg behind you. The lifted leg will act as a counterbalance as you roll up and down.
Modifications: You can do this movement without walking out into a plank, and instead just let your head and chest hang down in a standing roll down. Likewise, you can walk out into the high-plank position without doing the push-ups.