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Activate and Stabilize

Many group fitness instructors use traditional Pilates exercises in the core-conditioning sections of their classes. However, some of these exercises are too difficult technically and can set the average participant up for frustration. If an individual doesn't have the strength or the biomechanics to perform the traditional roll-up, for example, then she might use incorrect muscles and injure herself. Yet the roll-up is taught in most classes.
The right modifications enable students to experience the benefits of Pilates safely while also getting results. The following exercises are easy and safe for all levels and teach participants how to activate the core stabilizers correctly.
Note: This is just one small portion of a full class and is meant for educational reference.

Prone Back Extension

  • Begin face down, elbows bent and parallel to shoulders.
  • Relax glutes and hamstrings; pull abdominals in and off floor.
  • As you inhale, prepare; as you exhale, lift torso slightly off mat. Keep head in line with spine.
  • Retract scapulae as you exhale and keep rest of body still.
  • Contract transverse abdominus to stabilize spine.
  • Repeat 10 times.


The Half Roll-Up
A prerequisite for the full roll-up, this exercise involves the transverse abdominus and rectus abdominus.

  • Begin supine with legs extended.
  • Point arms toward ceiling, above shoulders.
  • Inhale through nose, exhale through mouth and contract transverse abdominus. Rectus abdominus will engage, bringing sternum toward pubic bone.
  • Inhale and exhale, as described above, and slowly lift shoulders off floor, bringing arms parallel to legs, fingertips reaching toward toes. (Safety cue: Imagine an apple under your chin as you lift your head. If you feel any discomfort, support the back of your neck with your hands.)
  • Only curl spine until you feel a deep contraction in your abdominals. Do not lift legs or engage hip flexors.
  • Repeat 10 times.



Leslee Bender is the founder of The Pilates Coach and is a continuing education provider for ACE and AFAA.

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