This workout is all about intention and being in tune with yourself.
Movement is medicine, right? We’ve all read it, heard it and felt the truth of that statement in our bodies. We’ve familiarised ourselves with the beneﬁts of exercise, from the prevention and treatment of physical ailments, improved mental and emotional clarity and enhanced lifestyle and well-being.
Then there is the immediate dopamine and endorphin ‘hit’ – you know, the happiness-inducing hormones produced when we work up a sweat. These are mood-altering chemicals, like drugs which, under the circumstances leave little wonder as to how one can become highly addicted.
In a world that welcomes and applauds excess, is exercise another way we’re falling victim to our ever-increasing need for more? With social media within our grasp 24/7, education and inspiration is but a scroll away. How soon though, does motivation turn to pressure, pressure to competitiveness, and comparison to compulsion?
Studies have shown that too much or extremely intense exercise can eﬀect hormonal balance and act like chronic stress, presenting symptoms such as sleep disturbances, arrhythmia, mood swings, weight gain, changes in gut health, appetite, immune system function, workout performance and altered nutrient absorption. Yup, these are the exact opposite of the health goals we have.
This all conjures just one burning question: how much, is too much?
Of course, this is an individual prescription, one only the best trainer can give you – someone who speaks clearly and honestly with you, who preempts injury with warning, who lets you explore the edges of your boundaries because they’re so very familiar with them, who works within speeds of up to 268 miles per hour (the speed of your nervous system)… well, that’s your body! Trust it, listen to what it has to say, note any changes to your norm and commit to building upon the powerful relationship between mind and body.
The simple fact is we do not have to train for hours every day to get the best results. That has been understood and proven through Joseph Pilates’ (founder of pilates) method.
“A few well-designed movements, properly performed in a balanced sequence, are worth hours of doing sloppy calisthenics or forced contortion,” he said.
Here’s a 20-minute full-body workout consisting of 10 exercises that require 2 minutes of attention to each.
The challenge is to practise the principles of pilates so that the intensity is found in the union of intention with action. Training smarter is training harder. When we can coordinate mind, body and spirit, less is unarguably more.
20-minute pilates workout
What you’ll need: a mat and a quiet space
Movement principles to apply:
• CONTROL – Aim to be intentional in your workout. Control all phases of the movement – where the action is coming from, the pace, range and power assigned to it.
• CONCENTRATION – We are strengthening the mind as much as the body. Developing a great mind-body connection is a true game-changer. Pilates is a thinking method, the results of which can be meditative and grounding.
• CENTRING – Move from the inside out. Don’t bypass the small, deep muscles by letting the more dominant outer shell take over. Developing this principle will truly amp up your strength, stability, agility, flexibility and movement ability as a whole.
• PRECISION – As with all the principles, this is something we develop over time, and is more than just about “clean lines”. Spend time to check your alignment, the sensations the exercise is creating, ensure the quality of each repetition is as good as the first, and that the movement is a positive, strengthening kind of pain rather than one of joint discomfort, spinal compression, injury aggravation and so on. If you are in a position that isn’t great, your body will more than likely tell you. Listen.
• FLOW – Pilates is intended to be practised with as little breaks as possible, the goal being to avoid rest between exercises. (Advanced practitioners will use transitions that tie the movements together.) This improves stamina and strength, maximises use of time and provides an uninterrupted way to connect the mind, body and spirit.
• BREATH – In exercise, your breath is a tool, not a rule. Don’t be too concerned if you are not breathing “correctly”. As long as you’re not holding your breath, you can’t go wrong. But make your breath an active aspect of training. Notice how it challenges or assists movement, improves muscular endurance. Discover how breathing either into your chest, belly or back changes how an exercise feels. Play with pulse breath, percussive breath, slow breath etc. Make choices based on the information your body is giving you.
THE HUNDRED WITH SINGLE-LEG STRETCH
Goal: Oxygenate the body in preparation for the work to come, get the circulatory system ﬂowing, to get the body nice and warm and to allow the body to harness the mind’s attention through concentration.
Set-up: Lay ﬂat on your back, arms long next to your sides, legs long and together.
(1) Action: Lift your upper body, arms and legs simultaneously. Pump your arms up and down from the back of your shoulders for 10 counts on a smooth exhale.
(2) Breathe in for 10 pumps with one knee toward your chest. Breathe out for 10 beats with the opposite knee to chest. Repeat for 100 arm beats (10 deliberate, intentional and deep breaths).
Modiﬁcation: Keep both/alternating legs on the mat.
Goal: Develop the awareness of centring. Move from precision with the core, rather than gravity or momentum.
(1) Set-up: Tuck yourself into a ball, balancing on your sacrum, shoulders relaxed down your back and forehead close to knees.
(2) Action: Breathe in to roll to your shoulder blades, keeping the frame of the set up the same. Breathe out to return to the balance challenge. Repeat for 10 reps.
Modiﬁcation: Hold the back of your knees and use your lower legs to generate movement. Consider the option to place your feet on mat rather than balance.
Goal: Integrate leg/pelvic and spinal movement. Aim for strength with stability and length for all muscles, hip ﬂexors included.
(1) Set-up: Sit resting on outstretched arms, legs long and lifted in a V shape.
(2) Action: Keep the shoulders square whilst reaching the legs to one side. Let your pelvis lift slightly and your spine rotate. Return to centre as your legs lower to circle to the opposite side. Repeat for 10 reps (5 in each direction).
Modiﬁcation: Keep your knees bent or rest on forearms.
Goal: Spinal articulation, lumbar-pelvic stability and strength for the back of your legs. Control the movement and achieve hip disassociation (allow the legs to move freely, but the spine to remain still and supported).
Set-up: Lay on your back with knees bent, feet in line with hips. Arms down next to your sides.
(1) Action: Peel your spine up ‘bone by bone’ until your hips are lifted in a long line from your shoulders. Press the back of your arms into the mat to lift one leg to ceiling without rotating your hips.
(2) Exhale to sweep that leg towards the mat, without creating a change in your lower spine. Inhale to kick it back to the start. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Modiﬁcation: Practise lifting your pelvis to the shoulder bridge position, and articulating the spine back to the mat.
Goal: Work and stretch the front of your thighs whilst stabilising your pelvis, spine and shoulder girdle. Breath is particularly important to energise and stabilise the body.
Set-up: Kneel with your hips in a neutral position (hipbones ﬂat in line with pubic bone). Arms to sides.
Action: Inhale to hinge at the knee, bringing yourself back to neutral position whilst reaching your arms forward in line with your shoulders. Move within ranges that you can keep the natural curves of your spine. As you travel back, drag your tailbone towards the back of your knees. Exhale to return. Repeat for 10 reps.
LEG PULL FRONT
Goal: To support our body weight and ﬁne-tune self assessment by noticing any deviations from a neutral position.
Set-up: Plank position (hands under shoulders, shoulder blades ‘ﬂat’ on your ribs. Neutral spine, long parallel legs).
Action: Exhale to extend the hip to lift one leg. Try not to let the leg lift aﬀect the spine or pelvis. Inhale to return. Repeat for 10 reps each side.
Modiﬁcation: Keep one knee under the hip (as in an all-fours position).
PIKE PUSH UP
Goal: Create and maintain a frame from which to move. Focus not only on shoulder strength, but also stability.
(1) Set-up: Pike position (From plank, lift your hips to a triangle pose).
(2) Action: Keep your tailbone reaching towards ceiling as you bend your elbows wide to lower head to mat. Exhale to return to pike. Repeat for 10 reps.
SIDE KICK KNEELING
Goal: Connect laterally and strengthen your sense of proprioception and balance.
Set-up: Kneeling, with one knee under hip, one arm to mat and the opposite leg stretched out at hip height. Place the other hand behind your head.
Action: Pulse breath out to swing your leg forward, avoiding tucking your pelvis. Inhale to reach your leg behind you as far back as you can, without creating a change in your pelvis or spine.
Modiﬁcation: Keep your moving leg bent.
Goal: Keep the sensation of work and awareness from Side Kick Kneeling, with added stretch in the side body to allow for deeper breathing.
Set-up: Sit sideways, resting on the side of your hip. Bend your legs, with your top foot in front of the bottom one. Support your upper body with your bottom arm.
Action: Inhale to lift your pelvis oﬀ the mat, straightening your legs and sweeping your top arm above your shoulder. Exhale to reach your arm like a rainbow over your head, creating an arc with your body. Inhale to return. Repeat for 10 reps each side.
Modiﬁcation: Stack your feet for an advanced variation. Keep your knees on the mat to regress. Remember, this is a hard one! Regressions are not cheating if you are making the movement precise.
Goal: To strengthen the whole back line of the body.
Set-up: Lay face down, arms outstretched overhead, legs long and engaged.
Action: Inhale to lift your upper body. Exhale to lift one arm, and the opposite leg from the crease of the butt. Press into the mat to engage the diagonal slings to lift higher. Lower with control. Repeat 10 times per side.
This workout is not meant to jump-start weight loss or shift the kilos. Body composition is not an accurate measure of health if we are only measuring ourselves against an ideal body type. We come in all shapes and sizes, with different needs and norms. This is an introduction to the idea that we can define our own standard of wellness, by tuning in to ourselves and “returning to life”, as Joseph Pilates wrote in his book Return to Life. In other words, recognising and returning to who we truly are.
Renee Siljeg is a pilates teacher based in Perth, Australia. Follow her on Instagram (@reneesiljeg).