Most people will think since Pilates Mat is readily available, it must be a beginners work. Unfortunately about 1/3 of the mat Pilates exercises are not beginner exercises. We have come to the 2nd half of the Pilates mat exercises where there are more interesting pieces. The hip circles is just one example and commonly done just after the Teaser. This exercise focus a lot on the obliques (commonly known as sides of the waist) which most people do not exercise enough unless you do a lot of exercises that require you to twist. If you are ever thinking of a slimmer waist, this is one exercise you do not want to miss.
Pilates works your whole body
We do not really think just obliques alone to do the hip circles well. Our deep abdominal muscles (Transverse abdominis) and back muscles (Erector spinae) play an important role in keeping our body stabilized to doing this piece well. Without working these muscles, what we commonly see is a lower back that arch and tilts as we circle. This can cause lower back pain or aches which is unnecessary and not needed in this piece. At the same time, the shoulders are another area of concern. As our shoulders are in an end range of extension, we also need to pull our shoulder blades down slightly to limit our tendency to elevate it. Our inner thighs are also pulled together, knee extensors working to keep the legs fully straight and feet pointed. That is why we say Pilates works the whole body.
so it is important that Pilates beginners take a progressive approach
With so many things to focus on, it makes sense to break the hip circles down to simpler parts. I would encourage you to practise the simplified version of the Corkscrew, Saw, Single leg circles, Spine Twist and Teaser first before attempting the hip circles. With the simplified Corkscrew, you could concentrate on the lower half of the body (Master Teacher Ron Fletcher called it the lower hemisphere), while the upper half (upper hemisphere) is stable on the ground. With such approach you will find yourself improving your Pilates consistently.
Can we modify Pilates exercises?
Yes of course you can! I always feel that if you are having a lot of difficulty doing something, then it makes perfect sense to modify it. So in the hip circles, some modifications you may want to consider is performing this piece with slightly bent knees. However this does not mean you stop working hard on your obliques. You still want to do this piece as if your legs were fully straight. Another modification could be leaning further back to be on your elbows. Usually people with tight hamstrings will feel the need to take these modifications since it would be really difficult to keep the legs up. However having said that, if you really need to modify a lot, you may not be ready for this piece and better off practising the other similar pieces.
Have fun practising this Pilates mat piece and share your experiences!