Well Being: The Power of Pilates!

About 12 years ago I discovered the amazing modality known as Pilates. Classical pilates to be specific. While the purpose and consequential benefits of this practice are as unique as each of us, one of the main reasons I love pilates is for one of the benefits we can all gain from it regardless of our needs — strength, stability and shaping of the abdominal muscles.  I’ve found that I could do crunches and abdominal work in the gym until I’m blue in the face (let’s hope not, right?) but nothing does more for creating a flat, lean, toned stomach than the entire pilates system of exercises. I say the entire system because (like yoga) I believe it should be done as a system, not done by cherry picking a few exercises. I’m posting the exercises here that are specifically core focused as they are part of my 60-minute (2-3 times a week) pilates workout every time. Pilates can be done on a mat (like these are) but maximum benefit is gained by using the apparatus machines found at a classical pilates studio. I always recommend hiring a qualified and certified instructor but if you don’t have access to that, an amazing solution I use at home, and one you can use too, are the mat (meaning no equipment required) workouts on Pilatesology.com. The instructors are some of the best in the industry (I am trained by Brett Howard but also love Kathi Ross Nash’s videos). These six exercises I’m posting here you’ll most likely find in every mat pilates workout. Start adding pilates to your regimen 2-3 times a week, work hard and I promise you’ll see great results! If you’re in Michigan, come see me at Core Sport Pilates Fitness Studio.

The one thing to remember with each of these exercises (and any pilates exercise) — think of doing a two-way stretch from a strong center.

The Hundred

This is the pilates exercise. It’s the first one done in the mat sequence (or close to the first). The closer the legs are to the floor the harder it becomes. The arms pump (in a controlled way) as you inhale for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts — do this 10 times (ie 100 counts). The toes are apart slightly and heels together (known as pilates stance). Arms reach long and stomach pulls in in opposition of the arms reaching forward. You create the work in your body! It is demonstrated here with the knees bent as a beginner option for the first 5, the last 5 the legs are in the traditional 45-degree position.

The Series of Five

These are five separate exercises done in a row ideally without resting the head to the mat (staying in an upper-ab curl the entire time). It can be made easier by resting in between or decreasing the repetitions. Ideally 10 reps of each exercise. You’ll notice pilates exercises aren’t done with a high number of reps — the idea is to work hard enough that you don’t need that many repetitions. Below are videos of each and at the bottom is the entire sequence.

Single Leg Stretch: Note the hand placement (opposite hand on opposite knee – important as it keeps the knee from splaying open as you pull it into the chest). Leg that lengthens out stretches long and low to the floor.

Double Leg Stretch: As the arms lengthen back, to the ears, the shoulder blades both stay curled up off the mat the whole time (ie, don’t lower the torso as the arms go back) and the legs lengthen long at 45 degrees.

Single Straight Leg: The legs only go up to 90 degrees and the bottom leg lengthens long and toward the floor, the legs scissor to switch. When hanging on to the leg you do a gentle “pull, pull” then scissor switch.

Double Straight Leg: Elbows stay wide and ideally don’t move. Legs start at 90 and lower to 45 degrees.

Criss Cross: Do not sidebend! Start with legs at table top. Curl up into upper-ab curl, twist the torso to the right bringing left shoulder to right knee and get your right shoulder blade off the mat and hold for 3 counts. To switch to the other side, don’t lower the shoulders, stay curled up and switch, now get the left shoulder blade off. Do this 5 times then add the legs as shown in the video.

Be well xo


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