Happiness is: {My Favourite 5 Pilates Moves}

Continuing on from the post I shared a couple of weeks’ ago, on how Pilates changed my life, I thought I’d share my favourite 5 Pilates moves with you.

A quick disclaimer to say that I am not a trained Pilates tutor. I’ve practiced for seven and a half years with my amazing professional instructor Natalie (who oversaw these movements as we photographed them).

I could definitely list lots more than five too but these are the basic ones that I do on a daily basis — and the ones that I attribute to reducing my back pain and making my body strong.

These are basic Pilates exercises  — super simple but a brilliant way to keep your back healthy.

I’ve listed them in no particular order; although if I could only pick one to do ever again, it would be a roll down.

1. The Pilates Cat Stretch

Cat stretches are one of the simplest — and gentlest —  ways to keep the spine mobile.

They’re great for improving core strength and also brilliant for improving bone density in your wrists.

For a long time my lower back was so painful but practicing cat stretches every day have eased this immeasurably. These are the perfect Pilates exercises for beginners at home.

Position 1

Pilates cat stretch — Get on to all fours; hands aligned beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Keep your back in it’s natural position — in neutral spine.

The Pilates Cat Stretch — Position 1

1. Get on to all fours; hands aligned beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips.

Keep your back in it’s natural position — in neutral spine.

Position 2

Pilates cat stretch — Starting with your tailbone, start to tip your pelvis forward.  Pull your navel in towards your spine and squeeze your bottom to try to create a rounded C shape with your lower back.

The Pilates Cat Stretch — Position 2

2. Starting with your tailbone, start to tip your pelvis forward.

Pull your navel in towards your spine, squeeze your bottom and try to tuck your tailbone underneath, to create a rounded C shape with your lower back.

Position 3

Pilates cat stretch — Continue to curve your spine — each vertebrae at a time — and let your head slowly drop forward, until your whole spine is arched in a cat stretch. Push your arms into the mat for extra resistance, whilst stretching the upper back. Keep your abs and rib cage pulled in. Your back should be as rounded as it can be.

The Pilates Cat Stretch — Position 3

3. Continue to curve your spine — each vertebrae at a time — and let your head slowly drop forward; until your whole spine is arched in a cat stretch.

Push your arms into the mat for extra resistance, whilst stretching the upper back.

Keep your abs and rib cage pulled in.

Your back should be as rounded as possible.

Repeat 10 times.

2. Pilates Bow and Arrow (Sitting)

The bow and arrow is one of my favourite exercises in my Pilates workout routine.

When I began Pilates, I had little (to no) movement in my thoracic spine (the upper and middle of my back).

Hours of sitting in front of a computer — and using a mouse with one hand — had made my upper back as stiff as a brick.

Initially I thought that it was destined to be stuck rigid forever but, little by little, the movement has increased and now I do the bow and arrow with ease.

The key to this movement is to try to keep your hips facing forward as you move; to endeavour to get all of the rotation coming from your back — rather than your pelvis.

You can do this movement standing too but sitting on a block is a good way to make sure your pelvis doesn’t twist.

Position 1

Pilates bow and arrow — Step 1 — Sit up tall on your sit bones — a block is a useful tool to help you sit up nice and straight.

The Pilates Bow and Arrow — Position 1

1. Sit up tall on your sit bones — a block is a useful tool to help you sit up nice and straight.

Position 2

Pilates bow and arrow — step 2 — Look to one side and begin to rotate your spine, keeping your hips to the front as best you can. Grow tall out of your waist and start to bring your arm back — as though you were pulling back a bow. Keep your elbow nice and high but make sure your shoulders are relaxed.

The Pilates Bow and Arrow — Position 2

2. Look to one side and begin to rotate your spine, keeping your hips to the front as best you can.

Grow tall out of your waist and start to bring your arm back — as though you were pulling back a bow.

Keep your elbow nice and high but make sure your shoulders are relaxed.

Position 3

Pilates Bow and arrow — Step 3 — Continue bringing your arm back and rotating your spine — with your hips facing forwards — until you reach your limit. Don't try to twist round any further than is comfortable and don't strain your neck.

The Pilates Bow and Arrow — Position 3

3. Continue bringing your arm back and rotating your spine — with your hips facing forwards — until you reach your limit.

Don’t try to twist round any further than is comfortable and don’t strain your neck.

Return back to the original position.

Repeat 10 times on each side.

3. The Pilates Dart

The Pilates Dart is a fairly recent addition to my list of favourites.

I used to really dislike it; mainly because I’d try to copy some of the other, more advanced, members in my group and — as a result — I’d end up pulling my lower back.

These days I love it. The Dart has trained me to protect my lower back and since I have more strength and stability, I’m able to do more Pilates back extension exercises like the swan and swimming poses.

It’s a brilliant exercise for back pain, as it strengthens all of the extension muscles in both the upper and lower back.

Plus it can be practiced by beginners as well as advanced students (as long as you take your time and don’t try to go to step three until your lower back can handle it!).

Position 1

The Pilates Dart | Step 1 — Lie face down on a mat with your legs together. Use a pad or folded towel underneath your forehead to make sure your neck is aligned and well protected.

The Pilates Dart — Position 1

1. Lie face down on a mat with your legs together.

Place a Yoga/Pilates pad — or folded towel — underneath your forehead, to make sure your neck is properly aligned and well protected.

Position 2

The Pilates Dart | Part 2 | Take a deep breath and as you slowly exhale raise your head so you're looking at the towel. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in and anchor your pelvis to the floor.

The Pilates Dart — Position 2

2. Take a deep breath and — as you slowly exhale — raise your head, so you’re looking down at the towel.

Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in and anchor your pelvis to the floor.

Position 3

The Pialtes Dart — Part 3 — Either you can hold the stretch — as per the last picture — or when your lower back is feeling strong enough you can carry on, lifting each bone of your upper back until your chest is off the floor and you're looking straight ahead. You should feel any pinching in your lower back and your shoulder blades will slide down your back and your arms will be 'soldier-like' by your side, your feet will lift off the floor and your body will resemble a dart in flight.

The Pilates Dart — Position 3

3. Either you can hold the stretch (as per position 2).

Or when your lower back is feeling strong enough, you can carry on to the next step.

Lift each bone of your upper back — imagine a strand of pearls, lying on a flat surface and being lifted by one end — until your chest is off the floor and you’re looking straight ahead.

You shouldn’t feel any pinching in your lower back.

Your shoulder blades will slide down your back and your arms will be ‘soldier-like’ by your side.

Your feet will lift off the floor and your body will resemble a dart in flight.

Repeat 10 times.

4. The Pilates Roll Down

The roll down is something that I do everyday, without fail. It’s one of the most fundamental, basic Pilates exercises; and if you’ve been sitting still for long periods of time — in a car or at a desk — a few gentle roll-downs make you feel lovely.

Roll downs are essentially a warm-up exercise but I think they’re so much more than that!

They’re a great way of getting the blood circulating again and also a nice and gentle way to stretch and realign your spine, strengthen abdominal muscles, stretch your legs, plus they help to improve blood circulation throughout the body.

Quite impressive for such a simple movement eh?

Position 1

The Pilates Roll Down — Position 1 — Stand with feet hip distance apart, toes and hips pointing forward. Your shoulders should be back and down — but relaxed. Stand as though you're a skeleton hanging from the ceiling by a thread in a doctors office!!

The Pilates Roll Down — Position 1

1. Stand with feet hip distance apart, toes and hips pointing forward. Your shoulders should be back and down — but relaxed.

Stand as though you’re a skeleton hanging from the ceiling, by a string in a doctors office!!

Position 2

The Pilates Roll Down — Position 2 — Inhale, tighten your pelvic muscles and pull in your tummy to engage your abdominal muscles. Then exhale, tuck under your chin (which will lengthen the back of the neck) and let your shoulders drop forward, as your start bending the upper back. Allow the arms to dangle (imagine that skeleton again!). As you work your way down towards the floor, keep soft in the knees — don't lock them — you can have a slight bend, which will take the pressure off your lower back. Roll your entire spine forward and down, one vertebra at a time.

The Pilates Roll Down — Position 2

2. Inhale, tighten your pelvic muscles and pull in your tummy to engage your abdominal muscles.

Then exhale, tilt your chin in and down (which will lengthen the back of the neck) and let your shoulders drop forward, as your start bending from the upper back.

Allow the arms to dangle (imagine that skeleton again!).

As you work your way down towards the floor, keep soft in the knees (don’t lock them — they can have a slight bend, which will take the pressure off your lower back).

Roll your entire spine forward and down, one vertebra at a time.

Position 3

The Pilates Roll Down — Position 3 — Once you've rolled down as far as you can (and is comfortable) —  just stay at the bottom, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings and breathe deeply for a couple of breaths. Then exhale and reverse the movement. Roll back up one vertebra at a time, until you reach position 1. Repeat as many times as you need to!

The Pilates Roll Down — Position 3

3. Once you’ve rolled down as far as you can (and is comfortable) —  just stay at the bottom, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings and breathe deeply for a couple of breaths.

Then exhale and reverse the movement.

Roll back up one vertebra at a time, until you reach position 1.

Repeat 10 times. Or more if you’re feeling stiff!

5. Pilates Tabletop (AKA The Kneeling Superman)

I love this next movement.

When I began practicing Pilates, I struggled to do position 2 successfully — I’d be wobbling about all over the place!! I had very little core strength and my balance was pretty shaky as a result.

But, after a few years of regularly doing the Pilates Tabletop (or Kneeling Superman), my core is now really strong and I’m able to hold position 3 for quite a while.

Position 1

Pilates Kneeling Superman — Position 1 — As with the cat stretch, get on to all fours with your hands aligned beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. Keep your back in it’s natural position — in neutral spine.

Pilates Kneeling Superman — Position 1

1. As with the cat stretch, get on to all fours with your hands aligned beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips.

Keep your back in it’s natural position — in neutral spine.

Position 2

Pilates Kneeling Superman — Position 2 — Extend your left leg out behind your body — toes brushing the floor — whilst simultaneously extending the right arm. Hold the pose for a few seconds, until you feel balanced and strong.

Pilates Kneeling Superman — Position 2

2. Extend your left leg out behind your body — toes brushing the floor — whilst simultaneously extending the right arm.

Hold the pose for a few seconds, until you feel balanced and strong.

Position 3

Pilates Kneeling Superman — Position 3 — Simultaneously, raise your left leg up from the floor — to trunk height — whilst raising the right arm. Hold the pose for a few seconds. Then reverse the action; lower your toe and hand back to the ground, then pull them in towards the body, until you're back in position 1. Repeat up to 10 times — then swap sides.

Pilates Kneeling Superman — Position 3

3. Simultaneously, raise your left leg up from the floor — to trunk height — whilst raising the right arm.

Hold the pose for a few seconds.

Then reverse the action; lower your toe and hand back to the ground, then pull them in towards the body, until you’re back in position 1.

Repeat up to 10 times — then swap sides.


And a few final pointers

One thing I’d say about all of the movements I’ve listed is to take your time, don’t rush.

Pilates is all about correct body positioning and good alignment.

There’s no point speeding through a load of exercises if your body is in the wrong position; you just won’t get any benefit.

But if you take your time — listen to your body — and make sure you’re in the right position at each stage, these basic Pilates exercises will work wonders.

It sounds gushy but Pilates has literally changed my life.

If you suffer from back pain or — even if you don’t — I highly, highly recommend it. It is a brilliant relaxant but also a fantastic way of keeping your body strong and healthy.

One thing I would stress though — be very choosy about finding a class.

Since I’ve been practicing, I’ve been to a few different classes — both home and abroad — and I can honestly say that the level of care and expertise is sadly not the same across the board. I’ve been so lucky to find an instructor — ‘Body Control’ trained — who has taught me to go at my own pace and listen to what my body is telling me.

There’s no point struggling to do an exercise that everyone else in class is doing, just because you think you should. It took a couple of years before I felt brave enough to not just follow what I was being shown — and to stop if it didn’t feel right.

So that’s it!

My favourite 5 Pilates moves — and a brilliant little Pilates workout for beginners.

Pin ‘5 Pilates Moves For Beginners’ for later…

5 Pilates Moves For Beginners by The Twinkle Diaries

With thanks to Joules for providing the lovely activewear and Laura Ashley for gifting the Pilates accessories for the purposes of styling this post.

Photos by Anne Worle Photography

Caro Davies

Caro Davies art directed fashion and interiors before leaving the world of design to pursue a career in social media. She can now be found chasing the light — and two small twin boys.

Find me on: Twitter | Facebook

12 Comments

  1. 6th April 2018 / 2:44 pm

    I love pilates and was doing it up until two weeks ago. The bump is just too big and too restrictive now. lol Love the activewear and mat though so pretty. I can’t wait to get back in the gym when I stop being dizzy been missing it. #wrc

    • 16th April 2018 / 7:45 pm

      It’s literally the best form of exercise you can do whilst your pregnant isn’t it? I’d have been lost without it. I had my last Pilates class at 35 weeks pregnant, with the twins, and I had them at 36 weeks. Lying on the roller was tricky with so much weight out front but I LOVED it!!!! Hope the dizziness stops once you’ve had your little man xx

  2. 8th April 2018 / 4:52 pm

    I just adore Yoga and Pilates I honestly feel that the keep you so much fitter and healthier, I am going to head to Laura Ashley and order some blocks as I dont have any at home x

    • 16th April 2018 / 2:06 pm

      I’d literally seize up if I didn’t go!! To be honest, just not going on school holidays are a killer!! I do a routine every day, but it’s not the same as going to a whole hour’s class each week :)

  3. Not A Frumpy Mum
    9th April 2018 / 1:23 pm

    Thanks for the tips, I really need to strengthen my back, it’s ruined since having G. I’ve done something to it this morning picking him up which just reinforces that I need to put some time and effort into taking care of myself. xx

    • 16th April 2018 / 11:06 am

      Aaah Jo!! HONESTLY — find a practitioner near you (Body Control trained if possible!!) and join a class. I can’t recommend it enough.

      My core was so weak — and it was exacerbating my back pain. Now that my core is strong, so is my back. Plus, you learn ow to move in ways that protect your body, so less tweaks and pain in the future too. It’s amazing!! x

  4. 10th April 2018 / 9:48 am

    I’ve never tried pilates, though I do yoga every week – I understand they’re quite similar? So many people thing that stretching and moving like this doesn’t actually do very much but I completely agree with you – it’s reduced a lot of pain that I used to struggle with and has made me a lot stronger, both mentally and physically.

    • 16th April 2018 / 9:50 am

      I think they’re similar in that you’re stretching and regulating your breathing but I think yoga is more spiritual whereas Pilates is more scientific possibly? My teacher explains how the exercises we’re are benefiting the body, and I’ve leant so much about the human musculoskeletal system since practicing with her. My grasp on biology has increase 10 fold!! I like yoga — but I love Pilates.

  5. 11th April 2018 / 10:39 am

    These are fab Caro! I’ve not done a Pilates class but I’ve done ones where these moves are choreographed in. Maybe I should give just Pilates a try x

    • 15th April 2018 / 7:38 pm

      DO it!!! Honestly — it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. But choose your instructor wisely; Body Control Pilates instructors are fabulous :)

  6. 19th April 2018 / 1:58 pm

    Oooh you’ve like the new Davina McCall… love this Caro, what a great post. I love Pilates and Yoga but really need to do more!

    • 24th April 2018 / 11:21 am

      Haha!! I love that :) I’m not sure Davina would be too pleased but I’m very flattered!! LOL!!

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