How Do You Stretch Your Neck And Shoulders?

These days, you might see more barres than bars at the studio. But the Pilates dowel, an invaluable device for facilitating proper alignment and better control, will make over your matwork in a major way

A SIMPLE TO OL TO USE AND ACQUIRE , THE BAR HELP S TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK AND AWARENE SS FOR HOW YOUR BODY IS MOVING THROUGH SPACE.

This workout was co-developed with my partner at the Pilates Haus studio, Tetsuo Yoshida, to help clients develop autonomous learning strategies. The bar instantly reveals whether or not you’re moving correctly, giving you the ability to make informed decisions in your movement execution right away.

How Do You Stretch Your Neck And Shoulders? Photo Gallery



Although the following series addresses eight of the exercises, the bar can be used throughout the majority of the matwork, to help encourage you to maintain a square body, initiate the movements properly and to work with better control. Bar none.

THE HUNDRED PURPOSE strengthens the abdominals; helps to circulate air and blood thoughout the body SETUP Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest, holding the bar shoulder-width apart directly above your shoulders.

1 . Roll your head, neck and shoulders up as you simultaneously extend your legs to a position you can control and hover the bar about 2 inches above your legs.

2. Begin to pump your arms up and down, in a small range above your legs, while slowly inhaling for 5 counts.

3. Continue to pump your arms while slowly exhaling for 5 counts.

4. Repeat for 9 more sets.

TIP Keep the bar square throughout—don’t allow it to twist or tilt. VARIATION Instead of lowering the bar above your legs, bring it as far overhead as you can control and pump here. ADVANCED Begin with your legs extended on the mat, instead of your knees bent into your chest.

THE ROLL-UP PURPOSE improves abdominal control; helps to limber the spine SETUP Lie on your back with your legs together and extended, feet either parallel or in Pilates stance. Holding the bar shoulder-width apart, extend your arms to the ceiling.

1 . Inhale and initiating the movement from the crown of your head, start to roll your spine forward one vertebra at a time.

2. Exhale, continuing to roll forward, ending in a C curve.

3. Inhale and starting from your tailbone, roll down one vertebra at a time.

4. Exhale, continuing to roll down, until you return to the starting position. Do 3–5 reps. TIP Keep the bar square throughout—don’t allow it to twist or tilt.

ONE-LEG CIRCLE ROLLING BACK/ROLLING LIKE A BALL PURPOSE enhances body control while massaging the spine SETUP Sit in a tight, round ball, balancing on your bottom, holding onto the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your elbows bent to your sides; your knees should be bent and in line with your shoulders, feet slightly lifted and heels pressed firmly together and into the bar.

1 . Initiating with your abdominals and tailbone, pull your abdominal wall back while curling your tailbone under.

2. Inhale, rolling back to your shoulder blades.

3. Exhale, rolling back to the starting position. Do 6 reps.

TIPS Make sure your elbows are bent and broad throughout. Keep the pressure of your heels firm against the bar, and don’t allow the distance between your heels and sit bones to change. PURPOSE increases total-body stability SETUP Lie on your back with your right leg bent into your chest and turned out at your thigh, and your left leg extended on the mat. Holding onto the ends of the bar, extend your arms toward the ceiling; press your palms into the bar as if you were squeezing a Magic Circle.

1 . Anchoring your body and left leg, extend your right leg to ceiling.

2. Inhale and leading with your inner thigh, circle your right leg across your body toward the left, then down to where you can maintain your back support

3. Exhale, continuing to circle your left leg open, but only to the point where you can maintain total-body stability, and then return to the position in step 1. Do 5 reps in each direction. 4. Repeat the sequence on your other side.

TIP Try not to move your arms while circling your legs. VARIATION Place the bar across your waist, and press your arms into the mat by your sides. Make sure to stabilize your pelvis and rib cage to prevent any movement of the bar as you circle.

ROLLING BACK/ROLLING LIKE A BALL PURPOSE enhances body control while massaging the spine SETUP Sit in a tight, round ball, balancing on your bottom, holding onto the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your elbows bent to your sides; your knees should be bent and in line with your shoulders, feet slightly lifted and heels pressed firmly together and into the bar.

1 . Initiating with your abdominals and tailbone, pull your abdominal wall back while curling your tailbone under.

2. Inhale, rolling back to your shoulder blades.

3. Exhale, rolling back to the starting position. Do 6 reps.

TIPS Make sure your elbows are bent and broad throughout. Keep the pressure of your heels firm against the bar, and don’t allow the distance between your heels and sit bones to change.

ONE-LEG STRETCH DOUBLE-LEG STRETCH STEP 3 . 1 PURPOSE increases abdominal strength SETUP Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest. Holding the bar shoulder-width apart, extend your arms toward the ceiling. Roll your head, neck and shoulders off the mat as you extend your left leg to a controlled level, while lowering the bar on a diagonal, about 2 inches above your right shin.

1 . Inhale, reaching out with your left leg as you pull your right knee into your chest.

2. Exhale as you switch legs, reaching your right leg forward and pulling your left knee into your chest. Do 6–10 sets. TIPS Try to keep the bar square at the same diagonal throughout. Reach forward and up with your upper body, to prevent your upper body from lowering.

DOUBLE-LEG STRETCH

PURPOSE challenges the integration of rib cage and pelvic stability SETUP Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest. Holding the bar shoulder-width apart, extend your arms toward the ceiling. Roll your head, neck and shoulders off the mat as you hover the bar right above your shins.

1 . Inhale, extending your arms by your ears as you simultaneously extend your legs forward to a level you can control while stabilizing your trunk.

2. Exhale, returning to the starting position. Do 6–10 reps. TIP Keep the bar square throughout—don’t allow it to twist or tilt.

SINGLE STRAIGHT-LEG STRETCH PURPOSE promotes trunk control to create a more efficient scissor of the legs SETUP Lie on your back with your right leg extended toward the ceiling and your left leg extended to an angle where you can control keeping your back supported; slightly externally rotate both legs. Roll your head, neck and shoulders off the mat, and firmly press the bar as high on your right leg as your strength and flexibility will allow. Pull your navel into your spine, hollowing out your abdomen.

1 . Inhale, firmly pushing the bar forward on your right leg for two counts, while pushing your right leg firmly into the bar at the same time.

2. Exhale to switch legs and repeat. Do 6–10 reps. TIPS Push equally with both the bar and your leg. The leg pushing into the bar should remain stationary—not moving forward or back. Keep your back flat on the mat, abdomen engaged, pelvis stable and reaching leg extended to the level where you can control your back support.

DOUBLE-STRAIGHT-LEG STRETCH PURPOSE challenges trunk stability and control SETUP Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest. Holding the bar shoulder-width apart, extend your arms long on the mat. Roll your head, neck and shoulders off the mat as you reach the bar forward, and extend your legs toward the ceiling.

1. Inhale, slowly lowering your legs to a level you can control, maintaining the distance between your bottom rib and hips on both sides.

2. Exhale, lifting your legs up to the starting position. Do 6–10 reps.

TIP Keep your arms level—don’t allow the bar to move. ADVANCED Lower your legs all the way down to the bar

CRISS-CROSS PURPOSE helps to create a more proximal initiation of the twist SETUP Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest. Holding the ends of the bar with your palms, extend your arms toward the ceiling above your shoulders. Roll your head, neck and shoulders off the mat.

1 . Inhale, twisting your upper body to the left, as you pull your right knee into your chest and reach your left leg out to a level you can control. Try to twist for 3 full counts.

2. Exhale, repeating to your other side. Do 3–5 reps.

TIP Make sure the bar stays parallel to the floor throughout—don’t allow one side to be higher than the other.

SPINE-STRETCH FORWARD PURPOSE helps to keep the body square while articulating the spine SETUP Sit tall, imagining that your spine is against an imaginary wall, and extend your legs to a V position, with your heels just outside the mat and feet flexed. Make sure your toes and knees are pointing to the ceiling. Holding the bar shoulder-width apart with your fingers long, extend your arms at shoulder height.

1. Inhale, engaging your seat, and then lift your spine tall and “slide” your back up the imaginary wall.

2. Exhale and leading with the crown of your head, slowly round forward one vertebra at a time, imagining that you’re rounding over a big beach ball and the bar is sliding forward along an imaginary coffee table; reach your hands and heels forward, and your stomach and balls of your feet back.

3. Inhale and starting from your tailbone, roll your spine back up the imaginary wall, stacking one vertebra at a time to a tall, straight back. Do 3 reps. TIP Keep the bar square throughout.

BRETT HOWARD is the director of education of the United States Pilates Association™ and a Senior Teacher of Teachers at the New York Pilates Studio® Teacher Certification Program. He’s a guest teacher trainer for the Authentic Pilates Education Teacher Training Program Australia. The cofounder and vice president of the Board of Directors of the Pilates Youth Organization, Brett is also the co-owner and director of the Pilates Haus studio in Jersey City, NJ. Brett was certified by the New York Pilates Studio under the tutelage of Romana Kryzanowska, and is a PMA-certified teacher. He’s a co-author of the book, Pilates for Children and Adolescents (Handspring Publishing, 2014) and a contributing essay author of the book, Voices of Classical Pilates (Peter Fiasca, 2013). Brett is a Distinguished Instructor and Legacy Curator on Pilates Anytime, as well as an instructor on Pilatesology. Brett holds a MA in dance education from New York University Steinhardt School of Education, Culture and Human Development and a BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase College Conservatory of Dance.

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