While it might look like the easy way out of a high-intensity spin class, Pilates is hardly a wimpy workout. Yes, it’s a great low-impact way to get started down the path of fitness, but Pilates can benefit anyone—newbies and veteran athletes alike. With slow, focused movements Pilates will cinch in a tummy, develop better posture and make you more flexible. And your strong core will do more than just look good; it will increase your overall stability and prevent injury as you integrate or continue other types of exercise like jogging, tennis or golf.
Find your inner strength with these Pilates moves that you can do at home and with no equipment. Begin with twice-weekly sessions spending about one minute on each move, working toward four times per week over time. Just click on the videos to start getting toned.
The one hundred
The one hundred is typically done at or near the beginning of any Pilates workout because it helps warm up the whole body, including the lungs. Focused breathing is an important part of Pilates work since it involves contraction of the abdominal muscles—so don’t forget to inhale and exhale completely (this will also reduce tension in your neck and shoulder blades). Perform 10 breaths of 10 counts for a total of one hundred repetitions.
Tip: Place a cushion or pillow under your head if you have neck pain.
Alternating toe taps
Toe taps work a larger set of muscles between the bottom of the rib cage and the pubic bone called the "powerhouse." These muscles include the big movers like the glutes and the rectus abdominus.
Tip: Use your abdominal muscles to keep your pelvis from arching or rounding. Exhale completely in order to fully lengthen the spine while moving the hips. To increase the difficulty of this movement, lift and lower both legs together while maintaining the natural curve of your spine.
Double bent-leg stretch
Here’s another “powerhouse” move that works abdominal strength and endurance. Use your large abdominal muscles to keep a stable spine as you lengthen your arms and legs away from the centre of your body.
Tip: First try reaching your arms and legs to the ceiling so that you can find the deep abdominals, then extend your limbs out as shown. Intensify this move by keeping your head, neck and shoulders on the ground.
Elbow to knee
This exercise engages the core while introducing spinal rotation to help strengthen the stabilizing muscles that surround and protect the spine.
Tip: Be sure you are rotating your neck and shoulders and the ribcage, too. Focus on turning your ribs to the opposite hip in order to get the most of this movement.
Hip circles build strength and endurance of the lateral (outside) hip, especially important if you participate in any side-moving activities like tennis, basketball or soccer. Keep your pelvis still by first engaging the low back and then moving the upper leg in the hip socket.
Tip: As with all Pilates moves, the breath is very important with the exercise. Keep the connection between your pelvis and ribs by focusing on narrowing the ribs as you exhale.
Leg circles are one of the best ways to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support the hips and help to flatten the tummy. By working your legs while engaging the core, this exercise strengthens the smaller muscles that stabilize your pelvis rather than the larger leg muscles.
Tip: Start with small circles to ensure you are keeping your pelvis stable. Gradually advance to larger circles as you become more comfortable with the movement.
You’ll be tempted, but don’t use momentum to get through this move. The Roll up should be completed using your core muscles rather than your thighs and other leg muscles. Do it right and you’ll whip that spine into shape by fully articulating each vertebra as you go up and down.
Tip: Keep your spine rounded as you pull your belly button back to keep your pelvis neutral. As you roll up, keep your chin tucked.
Roll up like a ball
It’s fun and it feels good! Roll up like a ball works those deep core muscles while simultaneously warming and massaging the spine and its supporting muscles.
Tip: Scoop out your tummy and maintain a c-curve to the spine. Stay connected and pause briefly at the top of the movement.
This classic Pilates exercise strengthens the spine, tones the waistline and stretches the hamstrings and hips. By using the deep abdominal muscles to pull your upper torso forward, you will learn to initiate movement from your body's centre.
Tip: Keep your hips completely still when you stretch forward. If your hamstrings are stiff, sit on a folded blanket or rolled-up mat. You can also practice this move with your knees slightly bent.
Laurie Lethert Kocanda is an ACE certified fitness professional, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer and co-author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom.