Pilates is a burgeoning workout trend that delivers results through brief, intense exercises. The movements and holds associated with Pilates can strengthen, tone and sculpt the body without creating bulk. Susan Sarandon and Madonna are among the celebrities who swear by the physical and mental benefits of Pilates. Beginners should consult videos or photographs of the proper positioning for doing Pilates.
As a precaution for any kind of exercise, always check with your physician before beginning a new program. And, remember to protect the neck and lower back while doing abdominal work.
Targeting the Core
The heart of a Pilates workout is focusing on the core, those deep muscles that comprise the weight-bearing center of the body. Also known as the “powerhouse,” this section of the body requires special exercises to target the muscles. One beginning Pilates move that hits the lower core is rolling like a ball. Set up a yoga mat or a Pilates mat and tuck in your neck and head. Remember to breathe. Roll back and forth, increasing your arc as you go. This move works the pelvic floor and the rectus abdominus, the area that often has a little belly pouch.
Well known in yoga circles, the plank position consists of holding the entire body upright as if preparing to do a push-up. Maintaining this position, while keeping the head down and neck relaxed, is a shortcut to building strength in the pectoral muscles and the triceps. Other strength building exercises for Pilates beginners include leg kicks and squats, which target the hamstring, gluteal and quadricep muscles.
Ballerina arms is a beginner Pilates exercise that tones the upper arms, elongates the spine and strengthens the upper and lower back. Begin cross-legged on your mat. Inhale and straighten your spine. Bend the arms at 90 degree angles, stretch them behind your back, connecting your shoulder blades. Slide your arms down, relaxing your shoulders. Raise your bent arms in front of you, over your head like a twirling ballerina. Slowly bring your arms in front of you. Repeat this move five to ten times. To increase the intensity of an arm workout, use resistance bands.
The beginner Pilates exercise known as The Hundred is the classic warm-up routine. It involves every part of the body and is particularly useful for conditioning and strengthening abdominal muscles. To properly do The Hundred, you must focus on your breathing. Begin by lying on your mat. Bring your knees to your chest, keeping your arms straight alongside your body. Keep your lower back on the mat. Begin with your legs bent in a table top position. Gently roll your head and shoulders up so you are looking at your navel. Pump your arms up and down while inhaling through the nose for five arm pumps and exhaling through the mouth for five arm pumps. Try this for 100 pumps. Consult a video on The Hundreds (see Resources below) for visual pointers on holding the position properly.