Breast Stroke Preps Help You Stand Taller

Breast stroke preps are not an original Pilates mat exercise. I learned these exercises when I studied STOTT PILATES. I decided to include them as part of our Pilates repertoire for a couple of reasons.

First, this exercise is similar to yoga’s Cobra pose. Cobra pose is invaluable for relieving back pain, and this is the Pilates way to try to incorporate that benefit.

Second, Pilates work is so heavy in spinal flexion that we need all of the spinal extension exercises we can get our hands on to help keep everything balanced.

Third, thoracic extension is important for everyone. We live in a society that is constantly hunched over an electronic device. It’s the thoracic spine that pays the price when we hunch or stoop, so this is a nice way to stretch the spine and restore us to our intended height.

There are 3 breast stroke preps. You may do all 3 exercises or just several reps of one. Pay attention to your body and do what is right for you.

All of these extensions should be done with moderation. This means you will not lift up quite as high as you might anticipate. Often, when the low back gets involved, we lift higher. Through these exercises, the low back should be stabilized and not lifting.

Breast Stroke Prep 1

  1. breaast stroke prep 1Begin on your stomach. Make sure that your knee caps face down to the mat. If you don’t have SI joint issues or pain in your tailbone or low back, bring your legs all the way together. Think about zippering your thighs together even if your legs are not completely touching. Press your big toe toenails into the mat.
  2. Bring your palms in line with your face. Your hands should be flat on the floor, and your shoulders should comfortably be away from your ears. In this position, your elbows should also be on the ground.
  3. The tip of your nose touches the mat, allowing your head and neck to be in neutral.
  4. We will use Pilates breathing.
  5. As you inhale, lift your low belly up toward your spine. Reach from the tips of your toes through the top of your head so that you feel like you’re straight as an arrow.
  6. Exhale, and extend through your upper thoracic spine. Feel like you are trying to rotate your heart toward the wall in front of you. Allow your head and neck to follow in neutral.
  7. Inhale into the stretch.
  8. Exhale to lower.
  9. Do 3-5 of these preps.

Breast Stroke Prep 2

  1. breast stroke prep 2Begin on your stomach. Make sure that your knee caps face down to the mat. If you don’t have SI joint issues or pain in your tailbone or low back, bring your legs all the way together. Think about zippering your thighs together even if your legs are not completely touching. Press your big toe toenails into the mat.
  2. Bring your arms straight by your sides. Turn your palms so that they face your thighs.
  3. The tip of your nose touches the mat, allowing your head and neck to be in neutral.
  4. We will use Pilates breathing.
  5. As you inhale, lift your low belly up toward your spine. Reach from the tips of your toes through the top of your head so that you feel like you’re straight as an arrow. Slide your shoulder blades toward your spine, allowing the front of your shoulders to open.
  6. Exhale, and lift so that you are in a straight line. Make sure you have not lifted so high that there is a curve to your spine. That’s not the point of this exercise. Instead, we are trying to be in the most perfect neutral spinal alignment while being challenged by gravity.
  7. Inhale, and feel yourself lengthen further.
  8. Exhale, and lower to the ground. Allow your shoulders to return forward to a relaxed position.
  9. Do 3-5 of these preps.

Breast Stroke Prep 3

  1. breast stroke prep 3Begin on your stomach. Make sure that your knee caps face down to the mat. If you don’t have SI joint issues or pain in your tailbone or low back, bring your legs all the way together. Think about zippering your thighs together even if your legs are not completely touching. Press your big toe toenails into the mat.
  2. Stack your hands one on top of the other so that your fingers overlap. This should allow enough space for the shoulders to be relaxed away from the ears. Allow your forehead to rest on top of your stacked hands. In this position, your head and neck should be in neutral.
  3. We will use Pilates breathing.
  4. As you inhale, lift your low belly up toward your spine. Reach from the tips of your toes through the top of your head so that you feel like you’re straight as an arrow.
  5. Exhale, and lift the head and the hands to a low hover.
  6. Inhale, and lengthen from the top of your head through the tips of your toes.
  7. Exhale and return to the ground.
  8. Do 3-5 of these preps.

Breast Stroke Preps Video

Here is a video for visual learners.

For those who are familiar with yoga’s Cobra pose, which do you prefer–Breast stroke preps or Cobra? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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