Back extension.

Extend your spine – and stretch like your pet

Have you ever seen a dog doing sit ups? Or your cat working out with weights? Our cat seems to be sleeping the day away, her whole body breathing. She’ll have a good stretch, some food, a little walk. She’ll run up and down the tree a few times. Then, another stretch and back to sleep.

Joseph Pilates, the founder of the Pilates movement method (which he called contrology), was inspired by the way animals move. They use their entire bodies with no pulled muscles or injuries (unless in a fight).

He went to zoos to watch animals in motion and encouraged students to observe their movements. In his book ‘Return to Life through Contrology’ (published in 1945), he talks about how the cat’s back muscles ripple as it stretches and relaxes. And how the cat is so relaxed when it sleeps.

The Pilates method uses this stretching and relaxing and whole-body movement. Cats move with grace and power, do what they need to do without overdeveloped or imbalanced muscles. Likewise, balanced and efficient development of the muscles is one of the keys of Pilates.

Modern life does not promote balance in our bodies. We spend a lot of time in flexion (bent over), looking at our phones and working on computers.

Why not start adding movements that will extend your spine, in the opposite direction? Maybe a simple stretch where you lift your chest and bring your arms behind you on the chair.

Some of the movements in Pilates even have animal names, such as this baby version of a movement ‘the swan’.

Lie on the mat face down. Keep your arms close to your body, bend your elbows to bring your hands under your shoulders, palms down. Lift your belly button up away from the mat. The abdominals remain engaged throughout the exercise.

Inhale and lengthen your spine. Float your nose just off of the floor. Slightly tip your pubic bone into the mat. Exhale to glide your shoulder blades away from your ears, raise your head and chest off of the floor, not lifting very high. Inhale as you lower your chest back to the floor.

The movement should occur at the upper back, not in the lower back. The abdominals are engaged as well as the shoulders, back, inner thighs, pelvic floor, glutes, and hamstrings. This movement opens the front body, expands the chest, and also helps stretch tight hip flexor muscles.

Why not take some inspiration from your pet? Breathe like a cat, stretch like a puppy, move your whole body whenever you can.

Would you like more ideas to strengthen your life? Get in touch to find out about studio or online classes, a ‘movement bundle’ or one-to-one session.