This exercise is a classic Pilates exercise. The focus is on using the core muscles to slowly articulate the vertebrae. The back should look round like the letter C throughout the entire exercise. The more you tuck the tailbone under and draw in the lower abs, the more work you will get out of the exercise.
Start sitting up tall on a mat. Feel the crown of the head reach up toward the ceiling and the spine lengthen. Take an exhale as you tuck the tailbone under and slowly roll your back down to the mat one vertebrae at a time. If you are properly rounding your back, the lower back will be the first thing to touch the mat. Inhale as you lay the head and shoulders all the way back, arms to the ceiling, keeping the abdominals engaged. As you exhale, drop the chin toward your chest, draw the abdominals in, and slowly roll back up to a seated position, one vertebrae at a time. (Remember to maintain that “C” curl on the way up.) The legs should stay down, firmly pressing into the mat. It should look smooth and precise. Try not to jerk your body forward in order to make it back up. If it does, you either have weak abs or tight hip-flexors. In that case, you could try the same exercise with bent knees and see if it makes it a little easier.
This stretch builds directly off of last week’s stretch. You start in the exact same position with all of the applicable rules of alignment. From there, reach the left hand up to the sky and get as long as possible. Keep the length in the body as you twist and reach around for the right foot with the left hand. Keep leaning the hips forward as you turn the chest even more to the left. Carefully pull the right heel in toward your bottom to create greater stretch in the quads.
If this is too intense, stick with last week’s exercise for the hip flexor. If you’re that tight, chances are last week’s stretch is enough to get both the psoas and quads.
**Pro tip: if you’re über flexible, try dropping the right elbow down to the ground on the inside of the left knee. It’s guaranteed to be the deepest quad stretch you’ve ever tried!
This is a classic hip-flexor stretch that’s good for almost anyone. That being said, I watch people do this stretch all the time at the gym and it is rarely executed properly. Just like anything else in life, if you want good results you have to put in the intention and effort to make it so. Notice how the knee doesn’t come forward of the ankle? That’s the first key to performing this stretch properly, and the most common misalignment I see when people do it. Letting the knee come forward of the ankle past 90 degrees puts a tremendous amount of unnecessary stress on the knee joint.
To stretch your right hip flexor (anatomically known as the psoas), step your left foot forward so you’re in a low lunge. Remember that knee alignment! Slightly tuck the tailbone under and lift the pubic bone to lengthen the lower back and maintain neutral pelvis. This will prevent stress or strain to the lower back. Gently place the hands on the knee and stretch up through the chest making the front side of the body feel long and open. Take some deep breaths and try and relax into the stretch. You should feel it deep in the front of the right hip.
** Pro tip: to increase the stretch, isometrically pull the left heel back and the right knee forward as you continue to tuck the tailbone and stretch up through the chest. (Isometric means that nothing actually moves, it’s a static action.)