Body Control: Using Techniques Developed by Joseph H. Pilates

Body Control: Using Techniques Developed by Joseph H. Pilates




Once only used by athletes, dancers, actors, and musicians, this method is now recommended for everyone — men and women of all ages. It also helps pregnant women learn proper breathing and body concentration; and recover body shape and tone after pregnancy. Many exercises are so gentle that they may be used by senior citizens to regain muscle tone, correct posture, and prevent bones from becoming brittle.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781891696008
Publisher: BainBridgeBooks
Publication date: 02/12/1998
Pages: 127
Product dimensions: 7.31(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.34(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I consider Pilates® to be an excellent form of exercise. Not only does it help focus the mind and 'center' the body, it is ideal for specific reasons too. As a dancer, Pilates® helps to strengthen, stretch and tone: as a singer, Pilates® helps to correct posture and breathing; and if I am ever injured and unable to train fully, Pilates® helps to maintain fitness while I am recuperating and repairing.

I am a tremendous Pilates® fan and fully appreciate the benefits it can bring!


The Warm-up


at Ease

Aim: to learn to stand in an easy and relaxed way.

When you see someone with 'good posture' they look confident, composed, at ease with both themselves and their surroundings.

    We inherit certain characteristics from our parents — the framework, the bones, the ligaments and the muscles. But it is how we use our bodies that determines our posture. Lack of physical activity, illnesses and injuries, mental and emotional outlook, mechanical stresses in the workplace and poor nutrition all have an effect on our posture. It is essentially bad postural habits that do most damage, and with the right level of awareness we can learn to control these.

    We will be working on all the postural muscles in the exercises, but certain key muscles will be particularly targeted.

A word of warning! Don't try too hard or you will create tension. We are aiming for a natural, balanced stance which is free from tension, enabling the spine to be long, the shoulders to relax, the neck to be free, all the joints to be released. Yes, we ask you to use your abdominals to support your spine — but gently! Don't grip or your hips will lock up. You must stay flexible as you cannot hold good posture — it is dynamic. Think of the willow and the oak ... we all know which survives the storm.

1. Stand in front of a mirror, if possible. Stand with your feet one hip-width apart and in parallel to each other.

2. The weight should be evenly balanced in the center of both feet (a triangle from the base of the big toe to the base of the small toe to the center of the heel).

3. Keep the legs straight, but never locked. Soften the knees.

4. Release the thigh muscles.

5. Create a long, strong center by drawing the navel and below back to the spine.

6. Imagine that there is a tiny weight attached to your tailbone — allow it to help you to lengthen the base of the spine downwards. You don't want to tuck under, just lengthen down. Remember the 'North to South' neutral position.

7. Soften the breastbone and allow the back to widen.

8. Allow the upper shoulders to soften, and keep giving directions throughout to relax and release them so as to stop any tension from forming.

9. Don't pull the shoulders back, just let the arms hang from the shoulder sockets. They will naturally hang a little forward ... don't force them back at all.

10. Allow the neck to release so that it can lengthen.

11. Aim for your chin to be parallel to the floor. Don't let it tilt forward (this will give you a double chin) or back (you will shorten the muscles at the back of your neck).

12. Imagine someone has taken hold of the top of your head and is lengthening your spine up to the ceiling.


the Wall

Aim: increase both flexibility and strength in the spine. Learn how to use the abdominals to protect the spine. Release tension in the back and aid relaxation. You are also working the thigh muscles.

A wonderfully rejuvenating exercise, roll-downs really make you feel great and can be done almost anywhere — all you need is a wall!

    They are especially useful if you are a back pain sufferer who is nervous of bending forward. If you prefer, you may slide your hands down your knees to give you a greater sense of stability.

    The exercise can also be performed sitting in a straight-backed chair.

'In coming up and going down,
roll your spine like a wheel.
Vertebra by vertebra, try to roll
and unroll

Joseph H. Pilates

Think of the spine as a wheel. Try to peel the spine off the wall, bone by bone. As you come back up, drop the tailbone down, rotate the pelvis and place each vertebrae on the wall one-by-one ...


* Keep the feet in parallel.

* Keep the neck and head relaxed until you are completely upright,

* Remember to draw the navel back to the spine throughout.


Stand with your feet about 46 centimetres (18 inches) from a wall, one hip-width apart and in parallel. Lean back into the wall bending the knees — if viewed from the side, you will look as though you are sitting on a high stool. Don't try to take the head back onto the wall.


1. Breathe in to prepare for movement, lengthen up through the spine.

2. As you start to breathe out, gently draw the navel back to the spine — it will take the small of your back closer to the wall. (If you have a large derriere you may not feel this.)

3. Still breathing out, allow the chin to drop forward by letting go of the head and neck, to feel as if your forehead is weighted.

4. Slowly start to roll forward, peeling the spine off the wall. Your arms and hands are relaxed. Your neck and head stay relaxed and your bottom remains on the wall. Only go so far as you are comfortable but aim to reach the floor eventually. You may bend your knees further if it is more comfortable.

5. As you hang, breathe in.

6. Breathe out as you draw the navel to the spine and, rotating the pelvis, bring the pubic bone toward the chin. Slowly, bone by bone, curl your spine back onto the wall as you come up.

7. Remember to breathe out as you move the spine.



Down the

Aim: to learn how to lengthen the base of the spine, achieving the correct angle of the pelvis to the spine. This exercise works the thigh muscles and stretches the Achilles' Tendon.

This exercise has the advantage that you are able to practice it anywhere, even where space is limited.

    To achieve good posture it is essential that the pelvis is at the correct angle to the spine. This is a wonderful way to learn to lengthen the base of the spine but without over-tilting the pelvis or 'tucking under' too far.

    Always remember 'North to South' (page 19).

    Refer back to the section on Alignment (pages 120-1) if you need any extra help.

Remember that we are aiming for a neutral position with the back neither arched nor flat, but rather with the natural curves of the spine lengthened and supported with strong abdom- inal muscles.

    This exercise has the added advantage of strengthening the thigh muscles. If you have back problems it is vital that these muscles remain strong so that you may bend your knees and squat while you lift heavy objects!


* Watch that you don't slide too far down (never take your bottom below knee level).

* Check that your knees are passing directly over your feet and not inside them. Your feet must stay parallel, don't let them roll inwards.

* Keep your heels on the floor.

* Remember do not allow your tailbone to lift off the wall.

Note: If you have a large derrière, you will not be able to feel the small of your back on the wall.


Stand, back to the wall, with your feet about 6 inches away from the wall. Your feet are hip-width apart and parallel.

    Lean back into the wall. Don't try to force your head back onto the wall, just stand there comfortably.

    Before you begin, take note as to which parts of your back are touching the wall.


1. Breathe in to prepare.

2. Breathe out and draw the navel back to the spine and wall.

3. Bend your knees and slide about 12 inches down the wall until your thighs are almost parallel with the floor — don't go any lower than this! You should now notice that your back is lengthened. Keep your feet flat on the floor (your heels will want to come up — don't let them). Don't allow your tailbone to lift off the wall, rather keep it lengthening out away from you.

4. Breathe in as you slide back up, still trying to keep the base of the spine lengthened.


As you leave the wall, stand upright for a moment imagining that the wall is still there.

* Keep your tailbone on the wall as you slide



It is better to do the exercise first and then to read this page.

Aim: to develop body awareness. Release the lower back into the floor, so lengthening the spine. To lengthen the neck and to relax the upper back allowing it to widen. And to release any areas where there may be tension.

This is an exercise in awareness and, as such, you are doing very little — you are, however, thinking and feeling. The end position is perfect for relaxation, being far better than just lying down — we hope the exercise proves this. It is also the starting position for many of the exercises to follow.

    While you are in lying flat out, you probably made the following observations about your body:

When you have rearranged yourself into the next position, you will hopefully feel that your body, especially your back, is far more comfortable. This position allows the spine to lengthen naturally, giving it the opportunity to recover from the effects of gravity and poor posture, which combine together to compress the spine. Lengthening the spine is very important. The curves of the spine are there for a reason as, quite simply, without them you would fall over! We are not trying to lose the natural curves, but poor posture leads to the curves becoming exaggerated — and it is in those sections of the spine where the curves are greatest that the weaknesses lie. It is in these areas that you are most likely to injure yourself.

    On the opposite page we have given you a relaxation exercise. Obviously, how long you can spend in this position will depend on how long you have set aside for your workout. We would not expect you to relax for a long period if you are doing the daily sessions set out in 'Working Out with Body Control' (page 116). The aim is to relax, center yourself and increase your awareness before continuing with the exercises. You may like to do this relaxation at the end of the workout session as well.


A small, flat, firm pillow


Lie on your back with your legs extended on the floor. Your arms are by your side, with your head resting on the floor.

    Take notice as to which parts of your body are touching the floor.

    Notice if your lower back is arching off the floor.

    Notice the curve of your neck and of your ankle.

    Imagine you are lying in warm, wet sand — what imprint would your body make?


Now bring your knees up to a bent position, one at a time. Your feet are flat on the floor, one hip-width apart.

    Place a small flat and firm pillow behind your head so that your face is now lying parallel to the floor — you may need someone to check this for you. The chin should be neither tucked forward nor tilted back — see the photograph below.

    Bring your hands so that they are resting on your abdomen, with the elbows open and wide.


1. Allow the floor to support you. Note which parts of your body now touch the floor.

2. Allow your feet to lengthen and widen, the toes are long.

3. Relax the calf muscles, imagine the knees are suspended from the ceiling by a rope — release the thighs.

4. Open the hip joints.

5. Take your awareness to the lower back, soften the front of the pelvis to release the lower back into the floor, as if you are lying in a hammock.

6. Try to release your upper back into the floor by softening the breastbone and the front of the shoulders. Allow the back to widen with each out-breath, with the shoulders melting into the floor.

7. Your neck is naturally long, with the top of your head lengthening away.

8. Check that your jaw isn't clenched. Allow your tongue to widen at its base and to rest comfortably in the bottom of your mouth.

9. Your eyes are gently closed. Allow the forehead to be wide, smooth and free of lines. Relax into gravity and observe your breath without interrupting it.



Aim: to learn lateral or thoracic breathing, involving proper use of the lungs and expansion of the ribcage.

We have already discussed the importance of correct breathing and, as you know, Body Control teaches lateral or thoracic breathing (see page 20). There are several reasons for this. Consider the positioning of the lungs themselves. They are situated in the ribcage. Most people breathe too 'shallowly', moving only the upper part of the chest and denying the lungs their full expansion.

    When you breathe in, a large dome-shaped muscle called the diaphragm lowers and the rib cage opens and expands laterally, permitting the lungs to draw in air like a pump. As you breathe out, the diaphragm rises and the ribcage closes and contracts which, in turn, aids the expulsion of air from the lungs.

    As the diaphragm lowers, there is naturally some movement in the abdomen. To restrict it would prevent the lungs from fully expanding in all directions.

    A word of warning though — the deliberate throwing-out of the lower abdominals, which unfortunately, is how most people interpret deep breathing, is counterproductive during exercise (the deep abdominal breath used by yogis is a different matter!). If your lower abdominals are extended with air, you will have left your lower-back unprotected and vulnerable to injury, particularly when you are doing an exercise such as the 'Single Leg Stretch' (Exercise 23, page 72).

    We are aiming to give the lungs as much space as possible to expand, thereby widening the upper body, filling the sides and back (see also Exercise 30, 'Rest Position', page 94).

    Equally important to achieving a full breath is the lengthening of the upper spine, which allows the ribs to open out, moving freely, gently massaging the muscles and encouraging them to release.


* Do not force the 'in' breath, just allow it to happen naturally.

* It is possible to 'over-breathe', especially in the very beginning. Look for signs of lightheadedness or dizziness — this is simply caused by an overdose of oxygen reaching the blood. Our bodies are not used to so much of a good thing!

* If you feel queasy, stop and take time out. Your body will soon adapt and benefit from correct breathing — just give it time.


Lie in the relaxation position as described in Exercise 4.

Place your hands gently on the sides of your lower ribcage.


1. As you breathe in, allow the breath to expand the lungs, ribs and back, filling your sides like bellows. Your fingers should separate.

2. As you breathe out, allow the ribs to close down and together, the upper body to deflate and your breastbone to soften, with tension between the shoulder blades seeping away down into the floor.

3. Allow the 'out' breath to be as full and complete as possible.

4. Don't force the 'in' breath because, with a complete 'out' breath, the air will naturally flood in to fill your lungs.



Navel to

Aim: to learn how to use the abdominals, especially the Tranversus Abdominis muscle, to protect the lumbar spine. Learn how to lengthen the lumbar spine and the correct placement of the pelvis and spine in a neutral position.

The creation of a strong center is a primary goal in Body Control. The center is the starting point to all the exercises, from which you can safely stretch or strengthen.

Centering also enables you to take advantage of the center of gravity for the body — this lies just behind the navel, at the very front of the spine, by the third or fourth lumbar vertebra.

    The instruction to draw the navel to the spine is always coupled with the instruction to lengthen the spine. The two go hand in hand, for an elongated spine supported by strong abdominals is paramount.

    It is important, however, that you do not tuck under too far, lifting the bottom off the floor. Neither should you push your spine down or grip tightly with the muscles around your hips. Remember the 'North to South' neutral position on page 19 — this will help you to achieve the correct placement.

    Once you start to move your limbs, you will need to work your abdominals a little harder. Note, however, that during the more strenuous exercises, especially whenever the legs are raised, you will need to draw the muscles back and in firmly to anchor the spine to the mat, preventing it from arching off the floor. Here, as well, you will need to keep the navel back to the spine for both the 'in' and 'out' breath. In order to do this, you must breathe laterally.

    Learning to use only the necessary amount of contraction in a muscle to do the job comes with time and practice.


* Do not over-grip the stomach muscles — hollow them and hold.

* The tailbone should remain on the floor, lengthening away. Don't tuck under.

* As you lengthen the arms and legs away, try not to let the back arch.


Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet one hip-width apart and parallel. Your arms are resting on your lower abdomen. The head is resting on a small, flat, firm pillow if necessary.


1. Before you start the exercise, find your neutral spine position — refer to the exercise on page 19 to help. You need to gently tilt the pelvis up to the navel (North), then tilt it towards your pubic bone (South).

2. Now find the level neutral position between the two. The compass pointer is like a spirit level.

3. Maintaining this neutral position, breathe in to prepare.

4. As you breathe out, soften the front of your pelvis, allowing the area of the navel and lower abdominals to hollow out towards the spine. Imagine that you are lying in a hammock. Hold the abdominals in this hollowed position. At the same time, feel how your lumbar spine lengthens.

5. Breathe in and relax.



1. Breathe in to prepare.

2. As you start to breathe out, hollow out the lower abdominals, drawing the navel back to the spine, feel the abdominals wrapping themselves around your middle like a corset. Lengthen the tailbone away, but keep it on the floor.

3. Still breathing out, slide the right leg away along the floor and take the right arm above your head to touch the floor behind.

4. Enjoy the stretch from your fingertips to your toes. Do not allow the back to arch — try to keep the navel back to the spine.

5. Breathe in as you return the arm and leg to the starting position.




Circles &
Leg Circles

Aim: Knee Circles: to mobilize your hip joints and to keep them free. Learn how to work your leg while keeping your torso firmly anchored and stable. Leg Circles: as for Knee Circles, but now you are also toning your thigh muscles.

Healthy joints' means joints that are open, well lubricated, mobile and able to move easily through their complete range. Hip-replacement operations are now one of the most common orthopaedic procedures. Without movement, a joint can seize up. These two exercises are designed to stop that happening.

Finding your hip joint

Do you know where your hip joint is? If you were to draw a line from your knee to your groin, you would arrive at the hip joint. Lift your leg upwards, bending your knee while doing so, feel the point where the movement originates — this is the hip joint.

The hip joint is a ball and socket joint which allows for a wide range of movement. Think of it as a ball bearing! As you circle and stir the leg, open it, release it, and enjoy its freedom.


* Don't take the leg too wide at the beginning of the exercise or you will rock from side to side. It is far better to keep the circle small and the torso calm and firmly anchored. For this exercise, remember to maintain a balance between East and West.

* 'Check your neck' — don't let it arch back, keep it long and soft.

* Watch that you keep your shoulders relaxed.

* Holding the scarf from underneath, palms towards you, can help you to keep the shoulder blades down and anchored to the floor.

* Breathe normally throughout both exercises.

* Keep your tailbone down on the floor throughout.


An ordinary scarf



Lie on your back with your knees bent. Feet should be hip-width apart and parallel. Place a small, flat, firm pillow beneath your head if necessary.


1. Bring one knee up towards your chest so that it is directly above your hip. Place a scarf around the lower part of the thigh, holding an end of the scarf in each hand — have the palm facing towards you as you hold the scarf. Keep your elbows open.

2. Use your lower abdominals to keep the pelvis stable — not allowing it to rock from side to side — gently and slowly rotate the bent leg around. Do this five times clockwise, then five times anti-clockwise. As you do so, think of releasing the thigh bone from the hip socket. Allow the scarf (and your hands) to help move the leg. Breathe normally as you move the leg.


When you have mastered keeping the pelvis still while circling the knee, try the following exercise.


The same position as for Knee Circles but this time no scarf is required.


1. Straighten one leg up into the air. The foot is softly pointed. You may keep the knee slightly bent to begin with, but ultimately you want to have the leg fully straightened. When you can easily straighten the leg, flex the foot. (For advice or pointing and flexing, see page 82-3). The other foot remains on the floor, with the knee bent.

2. Keeping the pelvis calm and stable and the tailbone down, rotate the leg slowly around in a circle — five times clockwise, then five times anti-clockwise. Make sure the foot is relaxed, unless you are doing the advanced version.




Aim: to stretch the hamstrings while keeping the torso stable, the back anchored and without creating any tension elsewhere in the body.

The hamstrings are, in fact, a group of three muscles, so called because in past times farmers would sever the hamstrings of pigs to prevent them from wandering away!

The hamstrings flex and bend the knee. We spend far too much time sitting and, as a result, the hamstrings don't get the natural stretching they need. Most of us have suffered the agony of painful hamstrings after a return to exercise or an over-vigorous exercise session. There is much debate as to which exercise is best for the hamstrings. Some will bring results quicker but, at the same time, carry a greater risk of injury. The exercise most commonly given to stretch them is the forward bend. 'Careless' forward bending with straight legs can, however, can put enormous pressure on the low back and knees with disastrous results. It is far better to stretch a little and often, gently easing out the muscles rather than pulling on them. Have you ever tried to undo a knot in a piece of cotton by tugging at it?

Why do we need to stretch the hamstrings?
Short, tight hamstrings can affect your whole posture. They will pull the back of the pelvic bowl downwards causing the lower back to flatten.

If your hamstrings are too short, they will greatly restrict your flexibility and increase the risk of damage being caused to the lumbar spine in everyday forward bending or sport.


* Don't allow the pelvis to twist as you straighten the leg — anchoring navel to spine will help you. North to South. East to West (see page 32).

* Keep your tailbone (coccyx) down as you stretch the leg.

* 'Check your neck' — often the neck shortens and arches back as the hamstrings are stretched. If this happens, place a small, flat, firm pillow under your head to keep the neck long. Think of softening the neck and breastbone and of opening the elbows. Hold the scarf as for 'Knee Circles' (Exercise 7, page 40) — it will encourage you to keep the shoulder blades down and together.

* Don't strain — ease the leg out, gently


An ordinary scarf


Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and one hip-width apart.

    Use a small, flat, firm pillow if necessary. Many people arch their neck considerably with this exercise, so you may need a pillow here, even if this is not so for the other exercises.

    Bring one knee toward your chest. Hold the scarf from underneath, with your palms towards you. Place the scarf over the sole of one foot.


1. Breathe in to prepare.

2. Breathe out as you anchor navel to spine, neutral 'North to South' positioning.

3. Slowly straighten the leg into the air, the foot being flexed downwards toward your face. Your tailbone stays down on the floor.

4. Breathing normally now, hold the stretch for the count of ten.

5. Relax the leg by gently bending it again.



Table of Contents

Foreword by Pat Cash8
Foreword by Piers Chandler9
The Benefits of the Body Control Method14
The Eight Principles16
Know Thyself23
Ready to Start26
The Warm-up28
1 Standing at Ease28
2 Roll-downs Against the Wall30
3 Sliding Down the Wall32
4 Relaxation Position34
5 Breathing Correctly36
6 Navel to Spine38
7 Knee Circles & Leg Circles40
8 Hamstring Stretch42
9 Hip Flexors44
10 Shoulder Drops46
11 Neck Rolls & Nose Spirals48
12Spine Curls50
13 Hip Rolls52
Lengthening & Strengthening54
14 The Corkscrew54
15 The Samson56
16 Side Reaches58
17 Waist Twist60
18 Pole Raises62
19 Wrists, Hands & Fingers64
20 Curl-ups66
21 Oblique Curl-ups68
22 Turning Out the Leg70
23 Single Leg Stretch72
24 The Hundred74
25 Curl-downs76
A Sound Foundation -- Foot Control78
26A Foot Circling80
26B Lifting the Arches81
26C Pointing & Flexing82
26D Waking Up the Toes -- The Mexican Wave!84
Flexibility & Strength86
27 The Star -- stage 186
27 The Star -- stages 2 & 388
28 Single Heel-kicks90
29 The Cat92
30 Rest Position Back-breathing94
Working with Weights96
31 Leg weights -- Abductor Lifts98
32 Leg weights -- Lift & Lower100
33 Leg weights -- Twenty Lifts100
34 Leg weights -- Inner-thigh Toner102
35 Arm weights -- Flys104
36 Arm weights -- Backstroke Swimming106
37 Arm weights -- Triceps108
38 Arm weights -- Biceps110
The Wind-down112
39 Arm Openings113
40 Pillow Squeeze114
Working Out with Body Control116
The Correction of Common Postural Faults124
Further Reading126

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Body Control: Using Techniques Developed by Joseph H. Pilates 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Old-Tom More than 1 year ago
Well, this is not an ordinary exercise (fitness) "how to" book. It gives careful and easy to follow instructions on a great variety of exercises. "Exercises" doesen't really fit what the Joseph Pilates methods have to offer but the authors use the word, I have been using my copy of this book regularly for about eight months. This was long enough for me to realize some excellent results. During that time I have added the exercises one at a time up to number 29. A few I have left for later, realizing that I needed to build up enough strength and flexibility to go back and add them later. I'm confident that I will eventually be able to do them all. To Put this in proper perspective I must tell you: I am 89 years old, very close to 90. You can imagine why I chose the Headline,
Guest More than 1 year ago
I tried some of the positions that were mentioned in this chapter and they really feel good on the back. I would recommend this book to people who are just starting on getting into shape or need a little something different in their fittness routine.