The STOTT® Pilates Warm-Up & 5 Basic Principles

The STOTT® Pilates Warm-Up & 5 Basic Principles

A proper whole body mobility warm-up is an effective part of any exercise routine and is fundamental to a successful mind body practice.  

At Pain Free Posture MN we are proud of offer the "ivy league" of all Pilates instruction, the STOTT ® Pilates brand.  No matter what modality you are using (matwork, cadillac, chair, barrels, reformer, or small equipment) every STOTT® Pilates exercise taught at Pain Free Posture MN will incorporate the Warm-Up and Five Basic Principles.

When you take Pilates classes at Pain Free Posture MN you will be taught a series of exercises designed to enable your body to flow easily into your workout.  They will warm your body up, help mobilize your spine, and prepare the shoulders, pelvic girdle and hips for the work to come.  

The 5 Basic Principles will help you help you become more aware of your ‘core’ musculature and overall postural position, which will help you get maximum results from your workout.  An awareness and mastery of  a strong foundation of core stability is key to performing Pilates and all athletic movements safely and effectively.

A STOTT® Pilates Warm-up includes the following movements:

  • Breathing
  • Imprint & Release
  • Hip Release
  • Spinal Rotation
  • Cat Stretch
  • Hip Rolls
  • Scapula Isolation
  • Arm Circles
  • Head Nods
  • Shoulder Shrugs

The 5 Basic Principles of Pilates

  • Breathing
  • Pelvic placement
  • Rib cage placement
  • Scapular and Shoulder stability
  • Head and Neck placement
  • 1.  Breathing

    Practicing proper breathing patterns in Pilates training ensures that enough oxygen is flowing to the muscles you are using, and helps prevent unnecessary tension. A relaxed and full breath pattern encourages focus and concentration, and also promotes relaxation. 

    The STOTT® PILATES breath pattern will also help you engage the deep abdominal muscles and stabilize your torso. At Pain Free Posture MN you'll be taught and coached on how to perform a three-dimensional type of breath. 

    The 3D (east-west) breath pattern causes an expansion of the rib cage out to the sides and back without allowing the shoulders to lift. The ribs will expand laterally (left and right) AND into the back. This type of east-west breathing draws air exchange into the lower lobes of the lungs where there is more efficient gas exchange. Breathing into the upper part of the rib cage tends to overwork the superficial breathing muscles and causes tension. 

    Conversely, breathing low into the deep belly completely relaxes the abdominal wall leaving the back very vulnerable for injury. It is inefficient at best. 


    Benefits of 3 Dimensional (East-West diaphragmatic) Breathing: 

    1. Oxygenation Releases Tense Muscles | When we breathe, effectively, oxygen flows into our blood which flows through our muscles. More oxygen in the muscles equals more relaxed muscles. The more, effectively, we breath in Pilates the more we can release those tense muscles “trying to help out” in our exercises. 

    2. Heightens Concentration | In Pilates there is a breath pattern specific to each individual exercise. One of the major benefits of this is the concentration we gain. 

    3. Activates Stabilizing Muscles | Exhaling deeply encourages activation of the deep abdominal muscles, which are essential in Pilates. Breath and muscular stabilization should occur before movement for safety and efficiency. 

    2.  Pelvic Placement

    At Pain Free Posture MN we will educate you on how to restore your pelvis and spine back towards it's natural "blue-print" design, and then help you isolate and engage the correct stabilization of the pelvis and lumbar spine (lower back) in either a neutral or an imprinted position.  STOTT® PILATES emphasizes stabilization of the pelvis and lumbar spine (lower back) in either a neutral or an imprinted position throughout all of the movement patterns.

    You will be clearly coached at all times whether you are in neutral or imprint throughout your pilates practice. The pelvic girdle holds the largest percentage of the body’s weight load and responds directly to the function of the four major load joint; therefore, it is important to grasp the idea of stability and mobility in this region.

    1.  Neutral Placement | Maintains the normal curve of the lower back. This is the most stable and shock-absorbing position that we can put our pelvis and lumbar spine in; therefore, it is the ideal position for us to be in, not only in pilates class but also in our daily life.  When lying on your back, front of hip bones and pubic bone should lie almost parallel to the mat, and your lower back should not be pressed into the mat. This is the most stable and optimal shock-absorbing position for your back.Y  ou will see a slight curve in the low back, this is normal. Our natural anatomical "blue-print" design  has a slight curve in the lumbar region. 

    2.  Imprinted Position |  This pelvic placement is often used at the start of a pilates practice to ensure stability of the pelvis and lumbar spine region if neutral position cannot be maintained. This position is also great for stabilizing weak abdominal obliques, with neutral being the ideal placement goal.  

    The lower back is moving toward the mat as the rib cage and pelvis move closer toward one another. You will be taught how to avoid pressing your lower back all the way into the mat or tilting the pelvis too far by overusing the abs or glutes. You will also be taught to know where your personal spacing is between the lumbar spine and the floor as the amount of contact between the lower back and the mat is different for everyone.

    The key is not to jam the low back into the floor; but rather lengthen it almost parallel to the floor through the proper engagement of the core musculature.

    3.  Rib Cage Placement

    At Pain Free Posture MN we will educate you on how to identify and achieve a neutral rib cage while at rest, and how to recruit your abdominal muscles to assist in maintaining the proper alignment of the ribs throughout the different pilates exercises.

    When the rib cage is in a neutral position the body can move in a more efficient way free of pain.  The rib cage position affects the alignment of the thoracic (upper) spine. 

    The rib cage is directly connected to the spine and the abdominal muscles. As the spine moves it is important to allow the rib cage to gently follow. When the spine:

    • Extends (moves slightly up behind the hips in an arced way) the ribs should gently open up
    • Flexes (moves down slightly forward of the hips in a curved way) the ribs should gently close in and down

    Throughout all of this movement it is important for the abdominal muscles to maintain connection; if it is lost then the spine no longer has support. Along with the proper use of the 3 Dimensional breathing patterns, and the proper abdominal recruitment, you will learn how to stabilize the rib cage on the spine. 

    4.  Shoulder Stability & Scapular Movement

    At Pain Free Posture MN we will educate you how to properly recruit your scapular stabilizers and shoulder girdle to reduce strain in your neck and upper back.  

    The scapulae (shoulder blades) are unique because they don’t attach directly any one point.  The scapulae lie on the back and due to this lack of attachment have a great deal of mobility, making it more important than ever to use the muscles to stabilize the area.  The shoulder blades have a large range of motion, so remember to maintain stability (but not rigidity) at all times: a) when the spine is neutral and the arms are resting; b) when the spine is moving, and; c) when the arms are moving in any direction.

    Though the shoulder blades move with the arms, it is important to keep the shoulder blades slightly connected throughout movement to ensure safety from injury and control of movement. Connection of the scapulae refers to thinking of gently and slightly sliding the blades in towards the spine and slightly downward in a “V” position.

    Stabilizing your scapulae [shoulder blades] on the back of the rib cage is as important as contracting your abs during the initiation of every exercise. This will help you avoid strain through your neck and upper shoulders.

    5.  Head & Cervical Placement

    At Pain Free Posture MN we will help you restore all of the natural curves of your spine.  This includes the proper cervical curve and corresponding functional movements required for the varying pilates exercises.

    In a "blue-print" design the head and cervical spine (neck) sits in a neutral position.  There is a slight forward curve of the spine. The head then balances directly above the neck and shoulders when lying, sitting, or standing.  

    It is important when practicing Pilates to allow the cervical spine to continue the line that you are making with the rest of your spine to avoid injury. If you are in:

    • spinal flexion (curved forward) then the head and neck will also slightly curve forward
    • spinal extension (torso arcing behind back) then the head and neck will follow

    We will safely promote the proper restoration of your cervical spine, and select the correct form of pilates movements to always keep your spinal health at the forefront of program planning.



    Stock Photo Credit:

    Head Photo Credit:  Ruby and Roxy Photography

    Author:  Deb Preachuk is a Corrective Exercise Specialist and the founder/owner of Pain Free Posture MN.   Follow Deb on Facebook, TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn, or subscribe to her YouTubePinterest or Instagram pages.

    With over 25 years in the health and wellness field, Deb helps real people transform real-world chronic pain challenges into achievable results. Deb infuses her teaching with an honest, open and down-to-earth mix of chronic pain relief therapeutic modalities training techniques to make the concepts of pain relief and body/mind transformation accessible and achievable!