// Go full circle with 360° Pilates

By adjusting both traditional and contemporary Pilates exercises to increase the rotation and side flexion, the body can be challenged in a more functional way, says Taryn Polovin.

One of the reasons I'm so passionate about Pilates is because the body of work is so multi-layered and complex. Pilates can be adapted to a wide variety of participants and purposes, from elite athletes to rehabilitation clients. Whether it's studio Pilates, matwork or 'pre-Pilates' the repertoire covers all bases and can get excellent results.

Over the past few years, the popularity of Pilates matwork classes has steadily grown and they now attract a wide range of participants. Matwork Pilates exercises have the ability to produce fantastic results in core strength, flexibility and postural awareness.

Most Pilates matwork exercises, however, are quite linear with a lot of the repertoire performed in the sagittal plane. In order to maintain interest for our regular participants, and to cater to specific populations, we can adjust the exercises to bring in other planes and more functional ranges of movement.

The following repertoire of '360 degree Pilates' exercises takes both traditional and contemporary Pilates exercises and adjusts them to increase the rotation and side flexion aspects.It also adds more dynamic movements to challenge the core in a more functional way. This range of exercises is ideal for use in either a group or one-on-one setting.

The six Pilates principles (centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flowing movement) are still required in order to maintain the integrity of the movement. These exercises should be performed in a precise yet fluid manner, with focus on maintaining core control through the increased range of movement.

Cat stretch

The cat stretch is a fantastic way to mobilise clients' spines while also bringing their focus to their breathing.

  • Start the exercise in the 4-point kneeling position (photo 1) and cue connection of the transversus abdominis as well as the latissimus dorsi. The neck should be long and in line with the spine without any excess tension in the upper traps.
  • Inhale to prepare, and then as you exhale draw your navel to spine and start to round your back, tucking your head and tailbone towards each other (photo 2).
  • With the next inhalation, start to straighten out your spine and move into extension, leading with the chest rather than the neck (photo 3).

This breathing pattern should feel natural as you are exhaling on the compression of the lungs and inhaling as you extend and expand the diaphragm.

  • To add lateral flexion to this exercise you can perform the same breathing pattern with the body moving into side flexion and then back to neutral.
  • Start in the 4-point kneeling position (photo 1). Inhale to prepare and then exhale as you side flex to the right, making a C-curve with the side of your body (photo 4). On the inhale, return to neutral. Repeat on the opposite side.
  • A fun way of increasing the dynamic aspect of this exercise is to combine both these movements. Start with side flexion (photo 4), move slowly and smoothly into flexion (photo 2), then side flexion on the opposite side and finish in extension (photo 3).
    Repeat three rotations on the first side and then three moving in the opposite direction.

Cat series 2

This series involves side flexion and thoracic extension and requires three layers of cueing as you build the exercise up to the final movement.

  • Begin in the 4-point kneeling position (photo 5).
  • Inhale to prepare.
  • Exhale to abduct your right arm out to the side and extend your right leg behind you, and then open into a side kneeling position (photo 6).
  • Inhale to return to 4-point kneeling without losing control of the movement and 'dropping' back down.
  • Repeat on left.
  • To add the next layer, begin the exercise as above and once the client is in the side kneeling position, cue a thoracic extension on the inhale (photo 7). Then come back through 4-point kneeling and repeat on the left.
  • The final cue is to add the leg extension which occurs simultaneously with the thoracic extension in the side kneeling position (photo 8).

Oblique roll-up

This is a variation of the basic roll-up.

  • Start lying supine with legs together and arms extended over your head. Inhale to lift your head and reach both your arms towards your right hip (photo 9).
  • Exhale to slowly roll your spine off the floor one vertebrae at a time, but continue reaching towards the right foot (photo 10). Even though you are peeling your spine off the floor with flexion through the right side of your torso, you are aiming to maintain stability through your pelvis and not hitch your left hip up.
  • Inhale to move your arms across towards the left foot, keeping the pelvis stable (photo 11).
  • Exhale to slowly roll your spine back down towards the mat while you continue reaching to the left hip
    (photo 12).
  • Finish with arms extended over your head and your head down on the mat.
  • Repeat three times reaching towards the right, then three times towards the left.

Oblique roll-up with hip lift

  • Inhale to lift the head and reach the arms towards the right hip.
  • Exhale as you slowly and segmentally roll up through your spine and lift your left hip off the floor while continuing to reach towards the right foot.
  • Inhale to hold the position (photo 13) and continue to reach with the upper body and deepen your connection through your core.
  • Exhale as you slowly roll back down along the right side of your body while keeping your left hip elevated for as long as you can maintain correct technique.
  • Repeat on the left.

Spine twist with reach

Begin this series with the basic spine twist but using a single breath sequence.

  • Start in a seated position with legs together and straight out in front of you (clients with tight hamstrings can sit on a bolster to help them achieve the correct spine position) and arms out to the sides (photo 14).
  • Inhale to prepare.
  • Exhale to rotate the torso to the right, keeping both 'sit bones' anchored to the floor (photo 15).
  • Inhale to return.
  • Exhale to rotate to the left.
  • The next layer involves adding the reach. Begin the exercise as above, but as you finish the rotation to the right inhale to reach your right arm behind you along the floor and extend your left arm up, leaning back on a diagonal (photo 16).
  • Exhale to use your abdominals to draw yourself back to an upright position.
  • Inhale to rotate back to centre.
  • Repeat this on the left.
  • The final layer to this series is to add the hip lift as you reach.
  • Start with the basic movement rotating to the right, but as you reach back with your right arm start to lift your left hip and both legs off the floor (photo 17).
  • Try to keep as little weight on the left hand as possible and use your core to stabilise.
  • Use your abdominals rather than your hand to draw yourself back to an upright position on the exhale and rotate to centre again on the inhale.

The key to the above exercises is to keep the movements dynamic yet controlled. Watch out for participants mimicking the movement without actually recruiting the correct muscles or muscle sequencing. Hopefully these exercises will give you some ideas on how to adapt other movements to introduce more planes of movement and challenges to the body.

Taryn Polovin BAppSc (Ex&SpSc), Grad Dip (Human Nutrition)
With a background in both exercise science and sports nutrition, Taryn has been involved in the health and fitness industry for over fifteen years. She is an international instructor trainer, fitness presenter and the host and creative director of the international TV show
Aerobics Oz Style.