Walk and Climb with Grace and Ease
In figures 1 and 2, our model, Gary, doesn’t have a good, deep bend at the hip as he goes to step up and walk forward. That lack of differentiation between the pelvis and the leg means that as he moves his leg, he has less stability, and more compensation through his spine and torso.
In figure 1, Gary’s whole right hip wants to go forward with the leg. You can also see how that has sent his body a little off balance so his upper body is not squared up to where he wants to go. A little exaggeration of that move would torque his low back as his right hip went forward.
In figure 2, we have the classic hike of the hip just to get enough clearance to step up. How do you think constant hip-hiking feels to the lower back? Not good. How about getting tipped off balance sideways every time you take a step? That’s what’s happening. These kinds of little things can build up to be big irritations like back pain.
Take a look at the photo on the right. Do you see how nicely lined up Gary is to step up and move forward? His shoulders are squared. His hips are squared. He is organized along the midline of his body to move forward, not side to side or twisted. It looks easy and natural.
Balance and Reach with Core Support
Ouch, my neck. Ouch, my back. Ouch, I can’t lift anything heavy off this shelf because my shoulder has lost connection with my core. I think I might fall over.
You get the picture: In figure 1, Gary is showing a typical reaching up move – something you might do to get an item from a shelf. You can see that if he goes any further he’s going to be working hard to keep his balance and his neck is getting crunched even now. Gary’s shoulder is lifting out of its connection with his torso – and with every bit it does, he’s losing the power and stability that come through the core. What if the item on the shelf was heavy? It would be difficult to control and necessitate ungraceful, inefficient gyrations just to bring it to chest level.
Now look at how core-connected Gary is the photo on the right. You can see that his shoulder girdle is still integrated with the rest of his body, and you can sense how he is reaching out from the stability of his core. He could easily go further – he could even get up on his toes and not be too far off center to reach for something of consequence. He would go straight up, and straight down, and not hurt his neck or lose his balance in the process.
Turn and Twist Safely
This is my favorite example of how helpful Pilates training can be in daily life. Look at what a limited range-of-motion Gary has in the two photos on the left. In the bottom photo, he is pretending to drive because that is one of ordinary times we all need to be able to turn fully, without tipping our body or hurting our neck. In the left-side versions, Gary’s torso is barely turning and his neck is taking all the stress. Someone else might have a different version of this and take all the twist at some other part of their back.
The point is to see what Gary shows on the right: With a flexible spine and stability from the pelvis, the effort of a twist can be safely distributed along the spine. Look at how much more of a turn Gary gets as he lengthens his spine out of a stable pelvis and spirals out of that with his torso, chest, and head comfortably giving him a good view behind.
Examples of Pilates exercises that teach turning from a stable pelvis:
Chest Lift with Rotation
This has by no means been a complete review of how Pilates exercises relate to daily life moves, but it is enough for you to begin to see the connections yourself. As you progress with Pilates, gaining strength and flexibility, it won’t be far to go to see how these connections support more challenging activities like running, dancing, and sports. Though we have looked at things in parts and had specific examples of exercises for each kind of move, remember that Pilates is full-body exercise. It is designed to create uniform muscular development and ease of motion throughout the body. Learn more about what it means to get in shape with Pilates.