Breast Stroke Prep


We all know the compelling benefits of Pilates by focusing the entire body and not just specific areas.


The Breast Stroke Prep exercise is one of our core Matwork exercises.  As the name suggests it is the preparatory exercise in our Pilates for principally the back. It is highly efficient for stabilising the scapula (shoulder blades), restorative upper back muscles and strengthening the body, improving posture and enabling better movement to name but a few. With the inevitable stooping over laptops, iPads, telephones etc we need to do all we can to strengthen the back and core.


I function the approach of reaching ears from toes for the full stretch in the exercise. This makes a huge difference to the exercise.


You should do this exercise once warmed up and mobilised.


How to do it!


Lay prone (on your tummy) on a mat on the floor. Legs tightly squeezed together, zipped up with toes pointed unless you have any back issues then legs hip width apart.


Place your arms so that the elbows are by the rib cage and wrists in line with the elbows. The hands in line with the shoulders. Don’t compress into your upper back. Nose on the floor or forehead by the hair line on a thin head pad if that’s more comfortable for you.


Contract your abdominals, inhale through your nose and press gently into your forearms. They stay on the floor. Think about reaching ears away from toes and toes away from ears before you lift your chest.  The legs stay heavy on the ground all the time. Exhale as you lift the chest just two ribs off the ground. Opening out the breast bone (sternum) by imagining a dart coming out of your sternum firing to the wall in front of you. It is imperative that your head and neck remains neutral. Just allow the head to come up off the ground softly with no craning of the neck. Inhale whilst lifted then exhale and return to your starting position. Four breath pattern, inhale prepare, exhale lift, inhale whilst in position and then exhale down. Enjoy and feel the benefits.


Repeat 6-8 times.

By Pilates Instructor, Louise Nightingale



My exercise of choice this month is the hip release. Hip issues are sadly becoming more prevalent.  This is partly due to an ageing population, sedentary lifestyles and hip fractures which can occur with age as the bones become weak and brittle.  A good diet and the right exercise is crucial. However this exercise is a vital warm up in our Pilates regime.


It is imperative that, as with everything, that we warm up correctly in order to facilitate good practice and mobilisation.


Start laying on your back on a comfortable mat/floor.  This supine position, as it is called, enables our bodies to relax whilst totally supported. Bend your legs and enable your spine to be in its natural or neutral position. Your feet are hip width apart with your neck long, or chin towards the chest with the head flat on the mat. The arms are by the side with the palms facing down, shoulders relaxed. Before you start take a couple of deep breaths, inhale through the nose and exhale through pursed lips.


Take a breath in through your nose then gently drop one knee out to the side towards the floor, away from your torso.  Ensure your other hip and leg does not move. It is easy for the other hip to become unstable. Then extend the leg you have just released to the floor along the ground. Point the toes and really reach that leg. All the weight of the leg is in the foot.  The foot does not leave the ground, it slides along the floor. Medially rotate that extended leg toward your body and draw it back in towards you, bending back into the bent knee position.  With the same leg after 3 repetitions change direction. Inhale reach the same bent leg away from you then exhale and laterally rotate the leg to the side then draw it back in to a bent leg position.  Repeat 3 repetitions in both directions on each leg.


Welcome to my first Pilates Exercise for The Woodbridge Complementary Health Centre.

This months Exercise is most importantly “BREATHING”.

There are many ways to facilitate a full breath but I like teaching it as part of the warm up in the following way.


Start laying on your back on a mat in, what we refer to as, a supine position. Bend your legs and have your feet hip width apart on the floor. If you feel more comfortable then place a small cushion or head pad under your head. Ensure your neck is in a nice neutral position ensuring the neck is not arched.

Place your hands on top of your rib cage with your finger tips gently touching towards the middle of your rib cage. Relax the arms and shoulders. Feel your back melting in to the floor and keep your spine in it’s neutral (natural) position.

Take a deep breath in through the nose and feel your fingers gently part as your ribs expand laterally as your lungs fill with air.  Ensure you breathe into your chest and not your abdomen.  Exhale slowly through pursed lips feeling the lungs emptying as the rib cage draws back and closes and your finger tips gently touch again.  You want to feel your breathe permeating deep into the lateral lobes of the lungs refreshing your body with oxygen.

Repeat 8-10 times or as much as you like.  This can be used as a precursor to your exercises or as a relaxation technique.


The benefits of this are huge, but for Pilates principally this is to prepare the body for exercise, reduce stress/anxiety, improve focus, clear out the lungs by filling even the deepest parts and helping to improve lung capacity and performance of your lungs.

By taking deep breaths you effectively force more oxygen into the cells of the body in turn having a beneficial effect on your energy levels and heart rate.

Not only is Breathing an essential part of life it’s essential when performing exercise including Pilates.  By focusing on your breath it enables us to perform our exercises to the maximum ensuring our posture is maintained correctly.


For more information on Pilates, private tuition and classes please contact Louise Nightingale at the Centre on 01394 388234.



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