Possibly one of the most exciting aspects of Pilates is that anyone can do it, and everyone can achieve amazing results. Because there’s no bouncing, jarring, or stress to your body, Pilates offers the ideal form of exercise for people who, because of joint pain or muscle weakness, shy away from exercise.
It’s also convenient. You don’t need any heavy, expensive equipment, and you can do Pilates anywhere, anytime. Some of the routines take less than 10 minutes, making Pilates the perfect form of exercise for anyone who finds there’s not enough time in the day for exercise. You have 10 minutes to strengthen your abs and back, don’t you? You’ll start to see and feel results in as few as 10 sessions.
Just some of the many ways you can benefit from doing Pilates regularly include:
A Healthy, Supple Spine
Pilates gives more support to your spine, creating space between each vertebra. That extra space not only makes you appear taller, it also creates more mobility, transforming your spine from a stiff rod into a supple string of pearls. This new suppleness prevents degenerative spinal problems, such as slipped disks. It also helps you move with more grace and ease.
Kinder, Gentler Conditioning
If you’re out of shape, Pilates provides a wonderful way to ease into any kind of fitness plan. Pilates puts no stress on your joints and no wear and tear on your ligaments and cartilage around your joints, especially your knee and shoulder joints. It conditions your muscles in a balanced way and increases your self-awareness by drawing your focus inward. In reality, Pilates is very rehabilitative. It’s almost like going to physical therapy sessions. In fact, unlike other forms of exercise, you can safely do Pilates every day without overstressing your muscles or joints. To see results, however, you need to do Pilates only three times a week. But you have to be consistent. That’s the key.
Improved Mental Outlook and Increased Motivation
Pilates benefits your emotional health. The smooth, steady movements quiet your mind and soothe your nervous system. As you lengthen and strengthen your muscles, you’ll improve your circulation and whisk tension away. Each workout will leave you feeling calm, balanced, and rejuvenated. Focus on letting the tension go, and you’ll be on the path to a healthier body inside and out.
Better Balance, More Coordination
In your 40s, balance starts to deteriorate as your muscles weaken and your nerve receptors lose sensitivity. Pilates reverses this aging process by stabilizing your core. Pilates works the small, deep muscles needed to keep your body steady when walking and your spine both supple and strong.
Less Pain and Stiffness
If you suffer from osteoarthritis pain, you’ll find that lengthening your body through Pilates will help soothe the soreness. Appropriate exercise is vital to managing arthritis, because it increases flexibility for stretches and reduces pain and fatigue. Stretching helps pump vital nutrients to your muscles and tendons, which help keep them healthy and minimize your risk of injury. It also stimulates the production of joint lubricants (synovial fluid) and prevents adhesions. As circulation increases, your legs, back, neck, and shoulders loosen up, relieving aches and stiffness. Pilates also leads to subtle posture improvements, which will also eliminate tension, driving away headaches, backaches, neck aches, and other aches and pains.
Faster Return to Prepregnancy Figure
Many women who have given birth ask me how I got my lower tummy so flat after I had my two kids. It doesn’t take that much time, but if you do a few moves on a regular basis, you will see results. Muscles have a beautiful memory. They will bounce back with just a little toning.
Every Pilates movement—when done correctly—starts in your core (abdomen), stays in your core, and ends in your core. A strong core:
Allows a gymnast to hold a handstand and a yogi to hold a headstand
Allows the martial artist to kick through a board and a dancer to leap into the air
Puts more oomph in your tennis swing, more speed to your run, and more control in your ski slalom
Creates power in your midsection and shrinks middle-age spread, helping you to accomplish goals you never before dreamed possible
That’s why it’s so important that you learn how to move from your core before you attempt any Pilates routine. If you lose the core emphasis, you lose many of the benefits of Pilates. To understand what I’m talking about, try this simple exercise, which I call “zipping up your abs”:
Zipping Up Your Abs
Lie back on the floor, with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and your back slightly arched, as shown on the left. Focus on your pelvic area and your lower abdomen, below the belly button. Pull those muscles up and inward, as if you were zipping up a corset. This upward and inward motion will bring your belly button toward your spine as well as lengthen your torso, creating more space between your ribs and hips.
Now you’ve slightly lifted your pelvis and flattened your back but still have a slight neutral curve in your lower back. Take note of the length in your core. Memorize this sensation.
Imagine that zipper again. Now try to zip yourself up even tighter, lengthening as the imaginary zipper comes up your midsection, almost squeezing yourself taller. This is how you want to feel during every Pilates exercise.
Some moves require you to flex your feet. Others require you to point, or extend them. When flexing your feet, press through your heels to create length in your body, but keep your toes straight, not curled back toward your shins. When pointing your toes, create length by extending through your big toe, but don’t overpoint, or overextend, by curling your toes toward your arches.
Don’t arch your neck. Whether sitting or lying in position to do Pilates, you want a long neck. Concentrate on lengthening through the crown of your head and tuck your chin toward your neck slightly.
Basic Ab Strengthener
The benefits of this exercise are increased circulation as well as stronger abs, particularly your upper abs. Resist the tendency to work your upper body in this exercise. Relax your arms, and don’t use them to pull your head and shoulders up. If your shoulders rise less than an inch, that’s okay. Just do your best.
A. Lie with your back on the floor and your head and neck supported by a pillow or cushion. Your knees should be bent with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows out to the sides.
B. Press your abs down to your spine and exhale as you curl your ribs toward your hipbones. Inhale as you lower to the floor. Keep your navel flat throughout the exercise. Repeat.
Lower Ab Strengthener
This exercise prepares your lower abs—the lower end of your rectus abdominis, a traditional weak spot in women particularly after pregnancy—for tougher Pilates work that follows.
You should feel the impact of these moves mostly in your lower abs and groin, not your ribs and upper abs. Before lifting your hips, tighten and pull the muscles in your groin up, as if you were holding a penny between your legs in your groin area. Then press your navel down. Doing just those two movements will strengthen your abs, even if your hips don’t noticeably rise. Also, remember to relax your head into your fingertips and keep your elbows out of sight.
A. Lie with your back on the floor and position a pillow or cushion under your hips and buttocks for added support. Raise your legs and bend your knees, crossing your legs at the ankles. Place your hands behind your head. Your elbows should be out to the sides.
B. Press your abs toward your spine and exhale as you curl your hipbones toward your ribs, initiating the movement with your lower abs. Inhale as you lower your hips. Repeat.
More Challenging Lower Ab Strengthener
If you can do the first variation easily, try this one:
A. Lie with your back on the floor, your hands down at your sides, and a pillow or cushion held between your thighs and calves. Lengthen your body from the crown of your head to your tailbone.
B. Press your abs toward your spine and exhale as you curl your hipbones toward your ribs. Inhale as you lower your hips. Repeat.Denise Austin • Prevention active.com