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Core control

Lynne Robinson offers a beginner’s guide to Pilates

Not many people realise that Pilates is more than just an exercise method – it is both mind and body training. Named after its German-born founder Joseph Pilates (1883-1967), Pilates teaches you to be more aware of your body and your movements. Every exercise is performed thoughtfully and with precision. There are different schools of Pilates, each with a different approach.

You can do Pilates as matwork or with machines in a studio. Either way, before you start, you need to learn the fundamentals of alignment, breathing and centering or core stability. (See The Relaxation Position in the box-out.) After just a few sessions you will notice an improvement in your posture; you will stand taller, you will find you are more flexible, your balance and co-ordination will improve and you’ll start to tone up all over, particularly around your middle as you streamline your body.

Getting started

The best way to start is to find a well-qualified teacher. If you have a particular problem try some one-to-one sessions – even a few will make a big difference – before joining a group class. As with all exercise methods it is advisable to check with your medical practitioner before exercising.

Beginner’s workout

The relaxation position, with alignment, breathing and centring (core stability)

In this starter exercise you will learn how to position your body, breathe and activate your deep core muscles.

Starting position

Lie on a mat on your back with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart and parallel. Use a flat-folded towel beneath your head if needed. Check that your pelvis is level (neutral) and your spine retains its natural curves. Take a few breaths, wide and full into the back and sides of your ribcage.


1. Breathe wide into the ribcage.

2. Breathe out, and gently squeeze your back passage (anus) as if trying to prevent passing wind and bring this feeling forward to your pubic bone. Then gently draw these muscles up inside like an internal zip. Notice what happens to your lower abdominals. If you wish, you can check placing your fingers just inside your pelvic bones. You should be able to feel them engage, gently hollowing away from your fingers.

3. Breathe in and hold this ‘core’ zip.

4. Breathe out and release.

5. Now try again but this time try adding several breaths as you hold the gentle internal zip. Breathe wide and full into the back and sides of your ribcage, before releasing.

If you found it hard to breathe, you have zipped up too far! With the following exercises, you should use only enough core connection or zip to control your movements. You will see this instruction: Use your core (zip) appropriately to control your alignment and movement.

Ribcage Closure

In this exercise you challenge your ‘core control’ from above by adding an arm movement. The goal is not to disturb the alignment of your head, spine, ribcage or pelvis.

Starting position

The Relaxation Position. Lengthen your arms by the side of your body on the mat. Use your core (zip) appropriately to control your alignment and movement.


1. Breathe in and raise both arms to shoulder height, palms facing forwards.

2. Breathe out as you reach both arms overhead towards the floor to where they are comfortable (about ear level). Keep your ribs down and your spine still and stable.

3. Breathe in as you return the arms above your chest.

4. Breathe out and lower the arms, lengthening as you return them by your sides.

Repeat up to 10 times.

Knee folds

Now it is time to challenge your ‘core’ by adding a leg action. The goal here is to keep your pelvis still.

Starting position

As above but with your arms alongside your body. Use your core (zip) appropriately to control your alignment and movement.


1. Breathe in wide and full to prepare

2. Breathe out as you fold one knee up. Think of the thighbone dropping down into the hip and anchoring there. Keep your pelvis still.

3. Breathe in and hold.

4. Breathe out as you slowly return the foot to the floor.

Repeat five times with each leg.

Lynne Robinson is the co-founder and director of Body Control Pilates. She is the co-author of Pilates for Life (Kyle Books) and The Pilates Bible (Kyle Cathie). Find out more at

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