Pilates is hugely underrated as a form of exercise. The movements are so tiny and the weights so light… how can it possibly be effective, right? Well here’s the thing: You don’t always need to be lifting huge chunks of metal with a full range of motion to build strength and muscle tone. And with gyms closed and said chunks of metal being off limits, Pilates classes are finally having their time in the spotlight. If you’re new to Pilates, though, you may find you struggle to keep up because the teacher is speaking a foreign language a.k.a. using Pilates lingo. Use this guide to decode some of those common, yet totally weird, sayings.
“Scoop your abs.”
May sound like: “Tilt your pelvis.”
What it actually means: Pull your tummy muscles in towards your spine and simultaneously up towards your chest. This helps lengthen your waist and stabilises your spine during movements. Pilates is all about moving well to prevent injury. You don’t need an ice-cream scoop to perform this move.
“Articulate your spine.”
May sound like: Move vertebra by vertebra.
What it actually means: Rolling or unrolling your spine, either from standing, so you’re rolling forward towards the ground, or sitting upright, so you’re rolling onto your back. The idea is to move slowly, little by little, and with control. Moving this way increases flexibility in your back.
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“Lengthen through the crown of your head.”
May sound like: Lengthen through your spine.
What it actually means: Sit or stand as tall as you possibly can. So no out-of-body experience then.
“Soften your elbows.”
Also: “Soften your knees.”
What it actually means: Whether it’s your elbows or knees that are getting the “softening” treatment, you don’t need Ingram’s to do it. All it means is that you shouldn’t lock the joint.
“Fire your glutes.”
May sound like: Engage your glutes.
What it actually means: If your Pilates teacher gives you this instruction, all you’re doing is activating your butt muscles as you prepare to move. Case in point: If you’re lying on your back, about to go into bridge pose, squeeze your bum before you lift your hips.
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“Wrap your thighs.”
What it actually means: With your legs together, rotate your thighs outwards very slightly, as you simultaneously squeeze the backs of your inner thighs together. No contact plastic required.
“Bring your wings down.”
What it actually means: No, this is not proof that Pilates is some woo-woo practice created for fairies. It’s not referring to actual wings. Simply pull you shoulders down away from your ears. Your neck feels better already, right?
“Open your chest.”
May sound like: Chest wide.
What it actually means: “Scalpel!” No, not really. Just pull you shoulders back and breathe more deeply so your chest expands.
“Knit your ribs.”
May sound like: Draw the ribs in.
What it actually means: As much as a rib-shaped tea cosy would make an interesting talking point at your next brunch, what you want to do here is pull your front ribs, just below your chest bone, closer together. You’ll feel your upper abs engage. It also stabilises your spine. Pilates is especially good for those with back pain.
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“Pull towards your midline.”
What it actually means: It sounds like something out of Olympic rowing, but the ‘midline’ is actually an anatomical term for an invisible line down the centre of your body that divides left from right. If you hear this phrase in your Pilates class, you’re probably pulling your leg towards your other leg.
“Ground your feet.”
May sound like: Anchor your hips.
What it actually means: Imagine yourself standing normally and someone bumps into you. You’ll probably stumble, because your weight was more on one foot than the other and you were actually kind of leaning on the side of that foot. Now imagine standing with your feet firmly planted. That’s grounding. No push-over now, are you?
“Hinge from your hip.”
May sound like: Break in the hip.
What it actually means: Bend forward at the hip joint, without rounding your back or bending your knees. Think of a laptop – the screen is the top half of your body, the keyboard is the lower half. Neither bends when you close the laptop.
Adapted from the Best of Women’s Health Big Book of Pilates.