Focal Firepower

Margaret Hjerleid January 1st, 2006

Use pilates to fortify your core

This article originally appeared in our January 2006 issue.


If you feel lower-back pain, decrease your lift and hold your stomach tighter to your spine.

Photo by David Clifford.

Ahh, the December doldrums. Daylight passes too quickly and the dirt sleeps under snowy white. Your running mileage totals may be lower than the Celsius readout, but don’t fret. Now is the perfect time to rest those legs and focus on other, neglected parts of the body. Pilates (pronounced Pil-á-teez) is just your ticket.

Pilates incorporates movement initiating in the body’s powerhouse torso muscles that keep us upright and help us run with authority. It aids flexibility and muscle length. Best yet, Pilates is hassle-free—it can be done anywhere, from a carpeted floor to an organized class setting. If you opt for a class, verify that it is leveled (i.e. Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced) and the instructor is certified by an accredited institute.





Photo by David Clifford.


This move draws strength from your inner thighs, deep abdominals and shoulder girdle while gently lengthening your hamstrings, back and neck muscles. If you have a sore neck, tight back or overused hip flexors, here is your medicine.

Lie flat on your back, legs long on the floor. Reach your arms toward the ceiling.

Inhale and roll your chin toward the chest. Lift your shoulder blades off the floor.  Gaze at your belly while watching your rib cage sink toward the ground.

Keep your legs long and fixed to the floor. Exhale and continue the roll, feeling your back peel off the floor one vertebra at a time. Continue to roll up and over the legs until your mid-section forms a C-shaped curve. Imagine rolling up and over a beach ball. Keep your arms and ears glued together.

End the exercise by rolling down with the same breath. Repeat five times.




Photo by David Clifford.


The Open Leg Rocker challenges your balance and coordination while working the deep abdominal and pelvic muscles. Look for strength and support from the upper back muscles as you stretch the hamstrings and lower back.

While seated on the floor, bend your knees and draw the heels toward your buttocks. Hold the outsides of the ankle joints and slowly rock back onto the tailbone. Stay balanced and slowly lift your feet a few inches off the floor (if this last move is too difficult, keep your feet on the floor). Keep holding your ankle joints to emphasize balance (see photo, upper right).

Keep the back long with a slight curl at the tailbone, the head high and the shoulders down and drawn together. Inhale and extend one leg.

Without rocking or changing the shape of your spine, exhale and bring the extended leg back to a bend, as if pushing your heel into a spring. Change legs each time. Repeat four times.




Photo by David Clifford


The Swan is the ultimate move for strengthening back, neck, abdominal and arm muscles.

Lie on your stomach with your legs extended and spread as wide as the hips. Place your hands directly under your shoulders, squeezing your elbows into the ribcage and stretch them back as far as possible.

As if pushing a marble away with your nose, inhale and curl your neck upward. Keep the shoulders and ribcage off the floor. Your body will form a backward c-shaped curve. Curl as far as possible without straining the lower back or engaging the buttocks.

Exhale and slowly lower yourself down as if pulling your ribs away from your waistline. Keep your ribcage long and stretched. Stretch even further through your toes. Repeat four times.

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