The 5 easiest and best pilates workout exercises
If you are like many Americans, you are looking for an easy way to stay fit and lose weight without too much exertion. And while numerous exercise routines and diet plans are well known, no other seems to provide the same level of mental and physical benefits as Pilates.
Pilates is essentially a series of simple, but strategic, stretching and floor exercises which target key muscle groups or areas of the body. With minimal effort, the novice fitness enthusiast can gain remarkable results by engaging in Pilates exercises a few minutes every other day.
Getting Started: The Powerhouse
In order to begin using the Pilates technique, it is important to first know and understand the “Powerhouse.” Generally speaking, the Powerhouse is the group of muscles found in the lower back, gluteals, and abdominals, also known as the core muscle areas or center of strength. It can be further understood by visualizing a square between the hipbones and lower ribs area. This area must be engaged before any other Pilates movements are conducted.
In order to engage the Powerhouse, follow these steps:
- Stand straight and tall
- Avoid locking your knees
- Slightly and gently pull your navel inward toward the spine
- Slightly tuck under your hips
As you engage the Powerhouse region, you will feel your body standing taller and straighter than ever before. It is advised to practice engaging the Powerhouse throughout the day, regardless of location or present occupation. Eventually, maintaining the Powerhouse in an engaged state will become second nature. Likewise, you will experience the best results from Pilates if you can keep the core engaged during exercise.
5 Great Pilates Exercises
If you search for “Pilates Exercises” on the web, you might feel overwhelmed by the hundreds of exercise techniques and methods, each with its own unique instructions. These exercises, for the most part, are not intended for the beginner, nor will they provide the same remarkable results as the following simple Pilates techniques. The five easiest and best Pilates workout exercises are:
- The Hundred
- Rolling Like a Ball
- Roll Up
All of these exercises are very useful for strengthening the body, promoting stability, and increasing flexibility. In addition, they are very good for relieving lower back pain or preventing it altogether. Each Pilates workout exercise is easy to do, even for the beginner, but beneficial for everyone regardless of fitness level, age, or physical capabilities. Since each exercise is performed on the floor, it is recommended that a good exercise mat be purchased and used during the Pilates workout.
This exercise includes one basic beginning set, one vigorous set, and one relaxation set of exercises. While engaging in each set, it is important to relax the neck muscles, relying more on the core muscles to reduce neck pain. While there is no limit to the number of repetitions one can engage in while doing this exercise, it is recommended that the beginning student start by doing only one round of each set.
Basic Beginning Set
- Start by lying flat on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms to your sides.
- Engage your powerhouse core, then exhale as you gently lift your shoulders and head up off the floor and toward your knees.
- Lift your arms to a parallel position, even with your hips.
- To execute this exercise, draw your knees toward your chest, then lift the lower legs to a table top position (as if you were placing your legs on top of a table). Take a deep breath, then as you exhale begin pumping your arms vigorously beside your body. Continue this exercise with controlled breaths, inhaling for five seconds, then exhaling for five seconds.
- Flatten your belly down and into the floor mat with every exhale. Continue this exercise, pumping vigorously and in this position, for 3 inhale/exhale cycles.
- Continuing from the same position as in the beginning set, straighten your legs out and upward in a 45 degree angle.
- Pump your arms once again for 3 sets of inhale/exhale cycles, holding your legs out by engaging the powerhouse core.
- Draw your knees into your chest.
- Wrap your arms around your knees.
- Exhale and inhale deeply and slowly for 3 counts
At the end of this exercise, you will have pumped your arms approximately 100 times, thus the reason for its name: “The Hundred.”
Rolling Like a Ball
In the rolling like a ball exercise, the purpose is the massage the spine while engaging the entire core and promoting balance. You will engage your powerhouse core, balance on your hips, then roll backwards onto the mat while exhaling. It is very important to engage this exercise with proper flow and execution.
- Start by sitting up straight and tall, knees bent and pulled up against your chest, feet flat on the floor.
- Wrap your arms around your legs, tightening the core muscles.
- Lift your feet, floating them above the floor as you further balance your weight.
- Tuck your tailbone in toward your toes, pull in your stomach, and press your spine inward toward your legs. There should be a slight separation of the feet.
- Tuck your head down, resting your forehead on your knees. At this point, all of your weight should be balanced exclusively on your bottom, with the core doing all of the balancing work.
- Tuck your tailbone under so much and pull back through the waist that your whole body loses its balance and rolls backward onto the floor mat to the shoulders. Do not allow your upper shoulders or head to hit the floor. Immediately rock back up, inhaling and exhaling as you complete this rocking motion.
- Regain your center of balance, then repeat step 6.
This exercise should be repeated three to five times. During execution, be sure to keep your form in the proper position to minimize muscle strain.
The purpose of this exercise is spinal articulation, to lengthen and strengthen the legs, and to promote strength in the abdominals.
- Lie with your back flat against the floor, legs tight together, toes pointed toward the ceiling, and arms down at your side.
- Lift your arms straight above your head, hands and fingers pointed toward the ceiling.
- Engage the powerhouse core muscles by focusing your energy and attention on the area.
- Inhale for five seconds, and during the 5 second exhale draw your chin down into your chest then roll your whole body upward into a sitting-up position.
- While sitting up, keep the chin against the chest, keep your arms and hands rigid, and attempt to stretch forward beyond your toes. Hold for 5 seconds, then exhale for 5 as you slowly roll back down onto the floor.
During this exercise, it is important to keep the core muscles engaged, using them exclusively to lift your body. Do not attempt to jerk your body upward, as this will engage improper muscle groups, resulting in muscle strain or pain. If you cannot complete the entire roll up exercise using only your core muscles, go as far as you physically can. Over time, your body will gain strength and the exercise will become quite easy.
The saw is a multi-part exercise. Each part in and of itself is rather simple, but putting all of the parts together may take a little getting used to. The saw is an amazing Pilates exercise that targets virtually every part of the body, with remarkable results. It promotes thigh flexibility and strength, spinal alignment, and core muscle strength. It “wrings out” the kidneys, lungs, and digestive tract, while keeping the spine long at the same time. The individual parts of the saw includes:
Each of these steps must be followed, otherwise full benefits cannot be enjoyed and muscle injury may occur. In addition, by following proper techniques, you will be assured that your efforts are not in vain.
- During the set-up portion of this exercise, you will be positioning your body in a strategic manner for maximum results.
- Sit up on the floor mat, feet and legs out in front of you, shoulder width apart.
- Keeping your back straight and tall, allow your arms to hang freely to the side.
- Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 3, exhale for five seconds.
- Press your thighs into the floor, pulling your toes inward toward your body and pressing your heels outward.
- Lift your arms straight out to each side of your body, hands and fingers pointed.
- Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 3, and exhale for 5. Engage the core muscles during this period of time.
- During the next inhale, stretch your spine as tall and straight as possible. Remember to keep your thighs pressed firmly into the floor and your hips straight.
- During the exhale, twist your upper body so that one arm is pointing straight in front of you while the other is pointing behind. Hold this position for three seconds.
- During the inhale, return your body to a straight position.
- Repeat step 5, twisting in the opposite direction.
Go through this exercise three times, then relax the body, remaining in a seated position.
The engagement portion of this exercise is similar to the warm-up, with an added feature.
- Return to the same position as in the warm-up.
- Prepare to twist the body to one side or the other.
- As you exhale and twist, go further than during the warm-up by attempting to grab your toes with the opposite hand. Your other arm should stretch long behind you.
- As you reach the toe, allow your fingers to remain straight. Make your fingers go past and to the opposite side of your foot. This should be completed in a sweeping motion, as if your hand is a saw and is sawing off your toes.
- Inhale as you return to the starting position, exhale and repeat in the opposite direction.
In this exercise, it is important to avoid repositioning your hips. It may seem that you are off-balance without repositioning, but it is important to avoid doing so in order to engage the proper muscles and produce desired benefits.
If you have difficulty reaching your toes, do not despair. Your strength and flexibility will improve over time. Simply stretch as far as you can in the right direction, and you will also gain lasting benefits.
The teaser is a very popular Pilates exercise. While some may claim that it is a difficult exercise, in reality it is more about practice than about difficulty. It is designed to strengthen the abs and promote spinal flexibility. In this exercise, you will be forming your body into the shape of a V. Essentially, you are attempting to touch your toes in mid-air, stopping before reaching your destination.
- Start by lying on the floor mat. Straighten your arms out and above your head on the floor.
- Draw in your knees, feet on the floor. Inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 3, exhale for 5.
- As you lay on the floor, be certain that your entire back is imprinted on the floor mat. You should not allow your spine to protrude or arch during this exercise.
- Lift your legs to a 45 degree angle, keeping them straight and together. Point your toes.
- Slowly and methodically, during your next exhale, float your arms, shoulders, and head toward your legs, allowing your body to roll upward into a seated position as you attempt to touch your toes.
- Do not allow your legs to go back to the floor. Rather, keep them elevated as you lift the upper portion of your body. Your legs may drop slightly, but should never be totally disengaged.
- Avoid tensing your thigh muscles. Instead, suck in your stomach as you lift.
- Your body should now be in the form of a V, legs held high, hands and arms pointing toward your feet. There should be a gap of approximately 20-30 degrees between your legs and your arms.
- As you exhale, curl your body back toward the floor. Keep the legs elevated.
- Return your legs to the 45 degrees point. Repeat
These Pilates exercises are very useful for core stability and strength, and provide useful benefits throughout the body. If Pilates interests you, or if you would like to learn more exercises, there are numerous resources, DVD’s, and books on Pilates. Also, you may wish to consider joining one of many Pilates classes offered at fitness centers and community buildings throughout the nation.