Pilates, a method of exercise developed by Joseph Pilates during World War I, can help children grow stronger and improve their flexibility. Although Pilates is often associated with slender, flexible dancers and movie stars, its original purpose was to help bedridden patients develop strength. You can adjust the various Pilates exercises as needed according to your abilities, making it a suitable regimen for anyone, even a child who is not very strong or in good physical shape.
The Hundred is typically the exercise most trainers start with when teaching a Pilates class. The exercise teaches children and other Pilates practitioners to engage their abdominal muscles and to breathe properly. Have your child lie on his back on the floor. Depending on his level of fitness, he can lift his legs straight into the air at a 45-degree angle or slightly lower. If he needs to, he can bend his knees. Have him place his arms at his sides and lift them 6 inches from the ground. His back should stay flat on the floor. If he can, he should lift his head up from the shoulders so that he is staring at his belly. The goal is to breath in for five counts, while pumping the arms, then out for five as he pushes his stomach toward the floor. As the name suggests, he should try to reach 100, breathing in and out, but start with a lower number.
Roll Like a Ball
Have your child sit up with his knees bent and feet flat on the floor. He should grasp his ankles with his hands. The feet should be about hip width apart. Tuck his head in, so that his back is round and he is staring at his stomach. He should tilt back so that he is supporting himself on his sit bones, or ischial tuberosity, the two bony bumps on the buttocks that are part of the pelvis. Tell him to breathe in as he rolls back, like a ball, until his shoulders touch the floor, and to exhale as he comes back up. If your child is skinny or has a small back, you may want to put a blanket on top of his mat or the carpet for extra padding while he does this exercise.
Your child can do Pilates leg circles several ways, depending on his level of fitness. He can get on his hands and knees and lift the right leg straight into the air while supporting himself on his hands and with the other leg. Have him rotate the leg in small circles clockwise 10 times, then change direction and rotate 10 more times. For an added challenge, have him extend his left arm out while he rotates the right leg. Leg circles can also be done while the child lies on his back. He should lift the right leg into the air, bending it at the knee if needed, and rotate it one direction 10 times, then the other direction 10 more times.