Classic Pilates Upper Back Strength & Flexibility Exercises

SUMMARY: Keeping our spines perfectly balanced with Pilates strength and flexibility exercises will aid in preventing back pain, and make for better posture.
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What It Is:

To create true functionality in our bodies we must have a balance of stability, strength, fluidity and flexibility. As we have seen in many of my previous posts, this concept of balancing the muscles and therefore the body is the core of the Pilates system.

In Pilates we do not group our exercises into categories, some for flexibility and some for strength. Instead, every exercise in Pilates is for both flexibility strength at the same time. There is efficiency in every move. We get the best bang for our buck.

Our Goal:

The upper back, just like any other part of our body, needs this balance. If our upper back is not functionally balanced, we will be brought to the extremes of either being hunched and rounded over or arched back so that our natural convex thoracic spine is distorted into a concave shape. We want to keep our spines in that perfect area right in the middle.

Here’s How:

Here are two Classical Pilates Mat Exercises to help you find that balance. If any of these cause discomfort or pain, go back to the previous articles on the upper back and keep practicing the pre-Pilates exercises in those entries.

Exercise – Swimming

  • Lie on the stomach with the arms stretched out in front. Start with the arms shoulder distance apart.
  • Stretch your legs behind you keeping them hip distance apart.
  • Place a folded towel under the forehead for extra comfort.
  • Inhale and lift the left arm and right leg up.
  • Keep the right hand and left foot pressing into the floor.
  • The crown of the head and sternum should also lift and shine forward as the arm and opposite leg lift.
  • Exhale and release.
  • Slowly switch sides.
  • Repeat four to six times.

Advanced Modification

For a more advanced version:

  • Press the hands and feet into the floor and lift the eyes and sternum, as if you are raising your head above water.
  • Inhale and lift the left arm and the right leg.
  • Start to switch sides in a quicker repetition until you are paddling the arms and legs back and forth.
  • At this quicker pace, the hands and feet stay off the floor as you paddle.
  • Keep going and take a long exhale for five counts and a long inhale for five counts.
  • Try to do four to six sets. (A set consists of a long inhale for five counts and a long exhale for five counts.)
  • As you do this advanced modification, don’t let the head droop. Keep the crown of the head and the sternum shining straight ahead.
  • Rest in Child’s Pose.
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