The push-up is a classic exercise to strengthen the upper body. If you break down and observe the complex movements in a push up, you will see that it activates many muscles in the upper body both concentrically and eccentrically.
You start by lying down in prone position on the floor with feet together. Your hands are placed under your shoulders, palms facing down. From here, you will tuck your toes under and push your body away from the floor until your arms are straight, ensuring that your shoulders, hips, knees and feet are in one straight line.
The up/pushing phase:
In this phase, the motions are in your elbow, shoulder and scapulae. The triceps brachii muscle contracts to extend the elbow. The pectoralis major, deltoids, biceps, and coracobrachialis muscles contract to allow the shoulder joint to horizontally adduct, which occurs when your upper arms move horizontally toward the midline of your body. Your scapulae are abducted (i.e. they move horizontally away the midline of your body) and protracted, moving forward as they round the back of your ribcage. For this, the serratus anterior and pectoralis minor are activated.
The down/lowering phase:
In this phase, the same muscles that are activated in the pushing phase remain active, but now working eccentrically. For instance, your triceps now work eccentrically to allow flexion in the elbow. The pectoralis major, deltoids, biceps, and coracobrachialis muscles work eccentrically to allow the shoulder joint to horizontally abduct. This will control the lowering of your body and prevent it from falling to the floor. At the scapula, the serratus anterior and pectoralis minor eccentrically contract to allow for scapula adduction. Note that for the pilates push-up, we keep the elbows close to the body and pointing to wards your legs as you lower yourself.
Note on scapula stabilisation:
The combination of gravity and body weight may make the scapulae “over-retract/adduct”. Engagement of the scapula abductor muscles (i.e. serratus anterior and pec major/minor) will help to keep the scapulae stable and “wide”.
( with reference from
Clippinger, K. (2007). Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology: Principles and exercises for improving technique and avoiding common injuries. Champaign, IL.: Human Kinetics)
The Pilates Hundred is a classic Pilates warm up routine. It is called The Hundred because we do 10 cycles of breath (5 counts of inhale and 5 counts of exhale each cycle for 10 cycles). In addition to getting us warmed up, it also helps to train the endurance of the deep core muscles.
1. In starting position, lie on the back, arms by your side, palms facing down.
2. Gently tuck your tailbone under you as you draw your pelvis up and into the spine. This action will imprint your lower back to the mat and provide the stability and support needed to keep your legs raised.
3. Bend your knees and raise them so that your knees and hips form 90 degrees.
4. Straighten your legs with knees and heels together with toes pointing to the ceiling.
5. Inhale, gently tuck your chin towards your chest.
6. Exhale, lift your head, neck and shoulder blades off the mat, reaching the arms forward. Think of holding a kiwi fruit under your chin.
7. Inhale rhythmically for 5 beats, keeping the rhythm with arms pulsing up and down with each count. Keep your elbow and wrists locked, initiating the movement from your shoulders.
8. Exhale for 5 beats, maintaining the same position and pulsing of the arms.
9. Hold the position and continue for 10 breath cycles.
10. Inhale, hold the position.
11. Exhale, return to starting position.
I’ve been dancing since the age of four which led to me pursuing a career in the field as an educator. What draws me to dance is that it can never be fully perfected – you are always working harder and always becoming stronger, but you never reach perfection. Some of the best ballerinas in the world attend technique classes daily as they always look to improve their technique further.
I find myself drawn to Pilates the same sort of way. my dance background has given me body awareness and sensitivity, however, no matter how much I practice at an exercise, I always find something new to improve on. I am still at the Beginner level series moving on into the Intermediate series but I still find every exercise which I’ve practiced since Day 1 equally challenging today. I kind of love this about pilates… It has re-educated my body to be more sensitive to movement, to change, to articulation and most importantly taught me to be more sensitive to breath. I enjoy the challenge it presents to me.
I see myself in the practice of pilates for a long long time… I enjoy the challenge that it presents my body, although closely related to dance, it feels like movement in unchartered territory.
The roll up and roll down
Lie back on the floor in a neutral pelvic position.
Keep both your knees bent with your feet planted on the floor
Your arms sit beside your body with your palms facing down to the floor.
With an inhale, gentle nod your head off the floor and raise your arms up
with fingertips pointing to the ceiling.
Bring your eye focus to your belly button.
(*Check that your rectus abdominals do not bunch up engage from the transverse abdominals)
On your exhale, with a strong engagement of your core, start rolling up through your
spine vertebrae by vertebrae. This articulates your spine from your upper back, middle
back to lower back.
(*Check to ensure your shoulder do not round forward and your scapula is kept depressed)
On the completion of your roll up, inhale and stack up the spine seating upright.
Hands are held in the front of you.
Exhale and scoop the belly in and stretch forward. Maintain your C-curve of your spine
(*Ensure a strong engaged abdominal core)
Inhale and stack up the spine seating upright again
Exhale, scoop in the belly, forming a C-curve, bring the eye focus to the belly button and roll down
one vertebrae at a time in a controlled manner till you return to your starting position.
(*Ensure this is a controlled movement, try your best not to jerk down through the position)
Today I will discuss the Pilates mat exercise: The Single Leg Stretch.
The single leg stretch exercise is done in supine position and is an exercise suitable for beginners. This exercise targets the abdominal muscles and helps to improve co-ordination of movement of the body.
This exercise is first in a series of five that belong to the Stomach Series. As such it is important to begin this exercise with the pelvis/lower back in an imprint position.
Preparing in chair position
In an imprint position, an active contraction of the muscles in the abdominal wall, namely the transverse abdominals along with the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles both help produce the posterior pelvic tilt needed for imprinting. The imprint position is done with an exhalation.
The legs are then taken into the chair position, which is a flexion at the hip joint and the knee joint. The muscles that assist in the flexion of the hip & knee are the iliopsoas, the muscles of the quadriceps, the rectus femoris, the sartorius, pectineus, the tensor fascia latae and gracilis. The illipsoas is responsible for the flexion at the hip.
Movement of the upper body
Thereafter, the upper body raises off the floor with an inhalation. In this position it is important that the scapula is stabilised (depressed) with the simultaneous contraction of the lower trapezius and the lower serratus anterior muscles.
The neck is kept long and the chin is slightly tucked, contracting bilaterally, the longus colli flexes the head and straightens the cervical spine assisting in the flexion of the head. The head is kept fixed in its position and the sternocleidomastoid helps elevate the sternum and clavicle assisting in the inspiration necessary for this exercise.
Movement and co-ordination of the legs
The flexion of the spine is assisted by the flexing of the spine is assisted by the muscles of the abdominal region, rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques, however the primary focus should be on the transversus abdominis which also acts as an anterior spinal stabiliser.
The arms are held in flexion by the side of the legs through the use of the active contraction of the anterior deltoid and the pectoralis major.
As the movement of the exercise begins, one leg stretches out to the front of the body with the foot in plantar flexion and is kept off the floor. This is an extension of both the knee and the hip joint with the muscles working in opposition to the flexion. The hip extensors are the gluteus maximus and the hamstring group, the knee extensors is the biceps femoris. As the foot is in plantarflexion, the gastrocnemius and soleus are contracted to produce the movement of the ankle joint forward.
The other leg is drawn in to the body bringing the knee in towards the chest with further flexion at the hip joint. The arms hold on to this leg drawn in and the arms aid in maintaining the proper alignment of the leg. With the use of the arms, the biceps brachii, teres major and the latissimus dorsi are engaged.
As the movement is done with a switch of sides the active muscle groups take an interchange on each side.
Prepared By: S.G.
Stomach Series: Single Leg Stretch in technical terms
This is the first exercise of the stomach series that strengthens the transversus abdominis and the oblique muscles.
1. Lie down on the back. Tilt the pelvis posteriorly with flexion on the hip and knees to 90 degrees.
2. Slightly create flexion on cervical vertebrae 1, 2 and the upper thoracic region, with depression on the scapulae and flexion of the shoulders so hands are close to the ankles.
3. Pull the navel close to the spine. Engage transversus abdominis & oblique muscles
1. Inhale to prepare
2. Exhale with extension on left knee and more flexion on the right knee closer to the body. Bring the left hand on the right knee and the right hand on the right ankle.
3. Inhale, prepare to switch
4. Exhale, switch
This is 1 repetition
I was 13 when I was diagnosed with juvenile dextro scoliosis. I went for therapy for most of my teenage years, and then on my last session the doctor’s last words were, “you’re good to go! Just continue doing your exercises and just watch out when you get pregnant.”
I didn’t realize that he was serious until the supposed-to-be wonderful day came. The then-not-painful scoliosis was hurting like crazy. It deprived me from enjoying the joy of pregnancy. My obstetrician advised me that I see a physiotherapist and do Pilates and that was one of the best advise I took. Pilates helped me strengthen my body specially my back and be able to manage the pain. It made me enjoy my pregnancies, childbirth and motherhood.
I truly believe that being healthy is the key to enjoy what really matters in life. Now, I’m an aspiring Pilates instructor and an awesome mom of two. Enjoying life and loving it.
Pilates, you got my back!
I signed up for my first pilates class 13 years ago when I was looking for a fun yet scientifically based way to lose some post baby weight as well as tone up. While I enjoyed the classes, I never quite took them seriously – they were just part of a one a week routine where I show up in class an follow whatever the instructor told me to do. It was only 2 years later when I was trying to have my second child through IVF that I started practicing Pilates seriously to strengthen my core. Outside of class I worked out on my own at least twice a week and long story short – I got pregnant on the first try and stayed strong and healthy throughout the pregnancy.
Unfortunately after delivering my child, I got busy with work and mommy duties that I stopped looking after my own body. Not only did I not have time to workout, I was eating poorly. It was like a vicious cycle, I slept poorly, so I was too tired to work out in the day, and since I ate poorly too (carb heavy), I felt sluggish …you get the gist. But I kept coming up with the cliched excuses : No time (especially to travel to the gym), too tired, too guilty (to reserve time for myself), no equipment (no treadmill to do cardio so I can lose the weight..Yes, I thought that I had to run and jump to get my cardio).
One day I looked in the mirror and found I looked so tired and …literally ugly! I was slouching, the post baby belly (even after over a year) was still there, my arms were flabby (the famous bye bye arms). I only wore baggy clothes which only made me slouch more. I felt really lousy.
Re-enter Pilates: I started classes with a girlfriend who is certified as a Pilates teacher. In addition to the precious sessions with her, I followed online classes so that I get my 3 times/week workouts, which eventually increased to 6 days a week. What initially fascinated me was that I could make full use of my body weight to get a good dose of cardio (e.g. push ups) and holding the plank did more good for me than those crunches I was furiously doing. The best thing was – PILATES IS SO PORTABLE – I could do it anywhere. This meant I could squeeze in a session at lunch time and even in my hotel room when I was on business trips or holiday! That felt so liberating. Externally, I noticed changes to my body – I was starting to shed weight (slowly but surely), and my body definition was also starting to show. Of course, I started to clean up my eating habits too but I made sure I put aside at least half an hour for my workouts. My colleagues (especially working moms) started asking me what I did during lunch hours and if they could join me, so we started a weekly session together. It felt great being part of a support group that kept each other strong and healthy, and set me to seriously consider getting certified as a pilates instructor so that I can be a better practitioner as well as a coach (hopefully) to those around me. I believe that in order for me to be able to improve my practice and be able to convincingly advise my friends/ family, I need to have a strong foundation in the philosophy and teaching of Pilates.
Fast forward to today and I am mugging now for the exam. At 42, I am older than the students in my Pilates Teacher training class, and am a professed late starter. But the thing is there are so many people my age going through what I have gone through, which puts me in a good place to empathize and understand their insecurities and needs. My hope is that through Pilates I will have the chance to be part of their fitness journey.