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How to Do 100s in Pilates

100s are the first exercises you learn and one of the most challenging in all of Pilates. And there’s a reason why most instructors start off class with this core-burning move: 100s provide a warm-up for the entire body, from the upper back to the feet, and they touch on one of the fundamentals of Pilates—breathing!

Here are some pointers for how to make the most of this first exercise.

Five Counts of Inhaling, Five Counts of Exhaling

While most instructors will count off the exercise for you—five counts of quick inhales, then five counts of quick exhales, ten times per set of 100s—it’s a great idea to keep track in your head, too.

Pulse your breath so that every inhale is even with every inhale, every exhale even with every exhale, and every five counts matched in length with the next five counts. By concentrating on your breath, you prevent yourself from holding it and tensing your already oxygen deprived muscles. And you also get your mind off of how difficult the exercise is by focusing on your breathing instead of your super sore abdominals!

Take it Slow

You may want to get through 100s as fast as you possibly can, but remember that it’s not a race, and the goal is not to be first, but to be last to finish.

The more slowly you do 100s, the more endurance and muscular strength you will develop. It will also give your instructor a chance to make sure you’re using proper technique. Working too quickly can also cause you to work incorrectly by “throwing” the arms instead of lowering and raising them at a slow and steady pace.

Strong Arm It

The powerhouse may be the focus in Pilates, but don’t neglect the need for strength in other areas of the body, too—specifically, the arms. Pulsing arms without active muscle engagement will cause them to feel heavy and bring down the upper body, making things more difficult for the already hard-working core.

Plus, the more active the arms during the 100s, the more strength and muscle tone they will gain during the exercise.

Push Your Wings Down Your Back

Just like passive arms can create a heavier upper body, so too can passive shoulders. The proper starting position for 100s should always have your shoulder blades pushed down toward the lumbar spine. Imagine that your arms are wings that begin at the shoulder blades: If the shoulder blades aren’t engaged and pushed down, the arms will be difficult to control.

Also, since the shoulders are a huge balance point in 100s, not engaging them into proper alignment will make your core unstable and prone to lean one way or another.

Relax Your Face, Focus your Gaze

Patience and persistence are vital qualities in the ultimate successful accomplishment of any endeavor.

Joseph Pilates

There are so many different parts of the body that must remain engaged during 100s that it can be all too easy to let the face tense right along with them. But when the muscles in the face start to clench into that “I’m focused so hard!” look, it inevitably tightens up the muscles around the mouth and nose, which then makes it more difficult to maintain even, paced breaths.

To learn to relax your face, try clenching and unclenching your facial muscles before class (preferably when no one else is around!). Remember what your face feels like tense, what it feels like relaxed, and learn to distinguish between the two. By getting a good grip on what your face feels like when it is actively engaged, you’ll be able to notice tension during your 100s and quickly loosen up.

If you still have a tough time unclenching the facial muscles, pick a point straight ahead and slightly above you, such as a far spot on the wall or mirror. Concentrate your gaze on that spot the entire time. This will allow you to engage your eyes, which will naturally deter other parts of your face from engaging unnecessarily. Remember, focused eyes are good—stone-cold focused eyebrows and lips are not!

Have Fun!

Above all, don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Pilates is a great fitness activity, but is also one that encourages a positive spirit and good attitude. With the right focus, you’ll be on your way to doing perfect 100s in no time!

One of the first exercises in Pilates are the 100s. If you're struggling with this super beneficial warm up, check out this guide for a breakdown of it and tips!
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