Pilates played an integral part in recovery from injury as well as injury prevention throughout my dance training and professional career with American Ballet Theatre. The results were so powerful in improving my technique that I was inspired to teach Pilates. I also wanted to continue with a workout that kept my muscles long and lean like a dancer’s. Powerhouse strength is the most important benefit that Pilates brings for dancers. The Powerhouse is the center of your body, the connection of your upper body to your lower body, and the foundation for all movement. Powerhouse strength assists greatly with balance and control, key elements that help with turns, leg extensions, backbends, and moving more efficiently and effortlessly.
The Double Leg Stretch on the mat is one of my favorite Powerhouse exercises because it sets the foundation for all Pilates moves. It combines deep abdominal work with a two-way stretch to elongate the body. You can modify by keeping your head down and/or working with your legs higher.
The Double Leg Stretch
- Curling up: Begin by lying on your back. Scoop your abs in and bring your knees in toward your chest, shins in tabletop position, and grasp your ankles or shins. Exhale as you deepen your upper abs to curl your head and shoulders off the mat, bringing your forehead toward your knees.
- Reach out: Keep your shoulders away from your ears and your abs scooped in as you reach your arms long by your ears, and at the same time, extend your legs long, squeezing your heels and buns together. This is your two-way stretch. Keep your abs pulled in and your back flat on the mat (no arching) to connect your upper body to your lower body and work your Powerhouse.
- Pull in: Reach your arms out to the sides and around to grasp your ankles, scooping your abs in more and pulling your legs back into your center.
Tips: Always use your upper abs and not your neck to keep your upper body curled off the mat. Only the tips of the shoulder blades should touch the mat. Keep your gaze toward your knees to help keep the head up properly. Chin should be about an inch from your chest. As long as your back stays on the mat, you can lower your feet down as low as eye level for more advanced abdominal work.
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