Feeling the chill today? We are. It’s been a long winter!
Lots of snow, ice and blistery days. If you’re a skier you’re in heaven. And if you’re a snowbird (lucky beautiful person), you have no qualms at all (and are most likely laughing at us right now).
For those of you still suffering through the snow and ice, what’s your least favourite thing about Canadian winters?
Is it shoveling? Driving? Maybe it’s the cold. Whatever your idea of winter hell is, we bet you haven’t considered this side effect…
Body Stiffness is the WORST Side Effect Many People Complain About in the Winter
And one of the inspired reasons snowbirds fly south, escaping
this icy cold season every year.
But WHY Do We Get So Stiff in the Winter?
During the long harsh Canadian winter, it’s natural to brace ourselves against the cold and draw in, concaving our chests and rounding our spines, leaving our postures scrunched and causing major tension around our shoulders. We do this, unconsciously, to brace ourselves against the cold.
What's the solution? How do you release this tension and feel more freedom in your body?
Pilates is Our Favourite Strategy to Loosen Stiff Muscles!
We love Pilates because it combines functional movement with intentional mind body connection, for deep muscle conditioning and strengthening. But what we love most about Pilates, especially during harsh Canadian winters, is its ability to help us open and create more space in our bodies for deeper breathing and easier movement.
We’ve compiled a few easy stretches you can do at home if you don’t have time to come to one of our Pilates classes (see schedule HERE), or if you’re snowed in (like yesterday for those of you living in Toronto).
At Home Pilates Stretches to Relieve Stiffness
1. The Mermaid - Side Stretch Exercise
Sit on the floor with one leg bent in front of you, foot pressing into your inner thigh) and the other leg bent behind you (heel behind your buttocks). Keep both sit bones grounded as your arm extends in a long, up and overreach, lengthening through the side you are stretching through, connecting the stretch through the center of your body. Your opposite arm rests gently at your side, or you can plant your forearm on the ground for a deeper stretch.
Mermaid is a good lesson in keeping the scapula settled in the back as the arm moves. You can add wide arm circles when you are completing the stretch for more intensity.
2. Side Plank to Forearm
Note: For more strengthening, doing this on your forearms, instead of your hands, gives you a wider base of support, thus adding more stability and controlled movement.
Begin in a forearm plank with your feet hip width apart (wider for more stability or together to challenge yourself). Then, in one fluid motion, move into a side plank with your feet stacked on top of each other or staggered if you feel unstable. Add a slight chest opening/back extension by drawing the head, whole arm and chest back in space. A second variation to this back bend is to extend your arm over your head and lift your hips for a deeper side bend and increased core engagement.
3. The Saw – Forward Folding Movement
Great for spinal mobility and to stretch your hamstrings. You can experiment with taking your legs wider.
Begin by sitting on the floor, legs spread as far as is comfortable for you, core engaged and sitting tall lengthening through the crown of your head, spread your arms to your sides arm bones in line with your shoulders in the shape of a T. Then, controlling your movement with your core by engaging your core and pressing through your lower back, fold forward reaching your pinky finger of one hand to the outer edge of the opposite toe and reaching the other arms behind you. Try to keep your spine long and core engaged. Unfold yourself, sit up tall and switch sides. Complete this stretch a few times on each side, using controlled mindful movements.
The Saw is an important lesson in pelvic stability. While there is a lot of activity in the upper body, the abdominals keep the hips still and even throughout the exercise. Your legs and hips should not move.
This stretch is excellent for spinal mobility and adding side bends for lateral flexion (stay on balls of your feet for foot stretch – great for ladies who wear heels a lot).
Begin in a tabletop position with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hip bones, keeping your spine straight and your neck long and in line with your spine. Then, round your spine towards the ceiling, tuck your chin into your chest, point your tailbone towards the floor and pull your bellybutton up towards your spine for Cat. Feel your shoulder blades pulling away from your spine as you keep rounding your back and pressing your hands into the floor.
Move into Cow by opening through your chest, drawing your shoulder blades together and letting your belly fall towards the floor as you arch your back and tilt your head back and reach your tailbone towards the ceiling.
You have the option of a side bend here. Think of swishing your tail to the right and looking at your tail then switch sides then go into a full circle.
5. Downward Dog
This is a great stretch to lengthen your spine, stretch tight calves and feet that have been stuck in winter boots for months.
Move from table top (described in Cat/Cow above) to an inverted V by straightening your legs, reaching your butt into the air and drawing your shoulder blades down your spine. Your hands should be firmly planted on your mat, spreading your fingers and pressing through the outer edges of your palm. Press your chest gently towards your toes and your tailbone towards the wall behind you while reaching your heels towards the ground. Tuck you head towards your chest. If this stretch is too intense, you can bend you knees slightly and let your head rest in a neutral position that is comfortable.
You can add a "walk your dog" to intensify the calf stretch. For more advanced practitioners, instead of being on the balls of your feet, try pressing the top of one foot on the ground then the other. Then try to roll onto the tops of both feet at the same time for an intense shin stretch, but do not lose the integrity of your Downward Dog.
Feeling Free After Doing These 5 Pilates Stretches
After completing these 5 Pilates Stretches, you should feel looser and freer in your body. You can take a few extra minutes to breathe and sit with these new sensations of freedom and space, and will help commit the movements to (muscle) memory.
Did you love these exercises and want to take your Pilates game up a notch?
We have so many classes to choose from! Look at our schedule HERE. Sign up in advance to save your spot!
Hopefully you’re feeling much lighter and finding it easier to move. No more stiffness! Or at least a lot less.
If you ever have any questions about Pilates Classes or Personal Training and the endless benefits, please let us know! You can email our Fitness Manager, Marta, HERE.