3 Pilates Exercises for Your Abs

Stretch for Flexibility

Photo Credit: José Vílchez

Getting and keeping a firm, toned abdomen can become increasingly difficult as we age. Some increase in belly fat may be due to aging, but a more sedentary lifestyle combined with high calorie diets can also pack on the pounds around your waist. When women reach middle age, hormonal changes mean that excess calories are stored as fat around your belly, on your hips and on your thighs. Weight gain and an increased waist line is not inevitable. Staying active, exercising and cutting calories can help get you trim and keep you fit. Pilates is a good way to work your abs while strengthening your arms and legs.

The toe dip Pilates move will work all of your abs, especially your obliques and lower abs. Lie on your back and bend your knees. Lift your legs, with your knees bent, until your thighs are straight and your calves are parallel to the floor. Place your hands on the floor on each side of your thighs with your palms down. Squeeze your belly and breathe in. Point your toes and lower one foot toward the floor. Keep your knees bent. Stop just an inch or two inches above the floor. Hold the position for 2 to 3 seconds and then exhale as you bring your leg back to the start position. Repeat 10 times on each side. You can do 10 repetitions with one leg and then 10 more with the other leg, or alternate legs until you do 10 repetitions on each side.

Leg circles work all of your ab muscles while strengthening your legs. Lie on the floor with your legs stretched out. Raise one leg toward the ceiling and point your toes. Make sure your hands are placed palms down on either side of your thighs. Make 10 small circles with your toes toward the left and then 10 small circles to the right. Bring your leg back to the floor and repeat on the other side.

Finish off your Pilates ab workout by doing a set of leg kicks. Lie on one side of your body with your legs straight out. Place one leg on top of the other and support your upper body on your elbow. Lift your ribs off the floor. Place your other hand (the one that is not supporting your weight) on the floor in front of your tummy to support your body and provide stability. Raise your top leg a few inches and point your toes. Swing your leg forward in front of your body as far as is comfortable for you. Hold the position for 2 seconds and then swing your leg back to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions on each side.


Pilates Mat Work Got You Down? Do It Standing Up!

If you have difficulty doing Pilates mat exercises, you can try some common mat exercises while standing up. The Hundred is one of the fundamental Pilates exercises. It is normally performed lying on an exercise mat. The standing Hundred focuses on your core, shoulders and the back of your arms. To perform the standing Hundred exercise, stand with your feet about hip-width apart. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Hold your arms at your sides with your palms facing toward your back. Keep your arms rigid and straight. Pump your arms up and down 10 times. Inhale on the first five pumps and exhale of the last 5 arm pumps. Lift your right leg a few inches off the floor and point your toes and repeat 10 arm pumps. Lower your left leg, lift your right leg and repeat for another 10 arm pumps.

The side lift plie works your core, quadriceps and glutes. Stand up straight with your feet about hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out from your shoulders. Turn your feet out about 45 degrees so that your toes are pointed out to the side. Bend your knees 90 degrees to lower your body but keep your back straight. Extend your left leg as you simultaneously straighten your right leg. Sweep your left leg out to the side of your body, hold for 2 seconds and then return to the plie position. Repeat with the other side. Do 8 repetitions on each side.

To do leg lifts, stand near a wall or hold onto the back of a chair if you needs balance support. Stand up straight and drop your shoulders a couple of inches to straighten your back. Place your feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Once you have your balance, squeeze your abdominal muscles and lift your right leg. Bend your knee and place your hands underneath your thigh to support your right leg. Inhale and exhale twice and then lower your right leg back to the floor. Repeat with your left leg.

Leg circles help strengthen your entire leg including your quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Leg circles are also good for your hip stabilizer muscles. Stand up straight and place your feet about hip-width apart. Squeeze your abdominal muscles and squeeze your thighs together. Keep your arms at your sides with your palms facing your thighs. Inhale and lift your left leg straight out to your left side with your knee facing forward. Make a small circles clockwise with your leg and then counter-clockwise. Do 8 circles in each direction. Lower your left leg and repeat with your right leg.

Do not exercise without your doctor’s permission if you are pregnant, suffer from osteoporosis or have any condition that may be aggravated by exercise.

Winsor Pilates Ball Workout

Photo by José Vílchez

Photo Credit: José Vílchez

Pilates is a popular form of exercise practiced by Hollywood stars, athletes and ordinary people. Pilates isn’t a fad. It is a type of exercise developed in the early 1900s by Joseph Pilates, an athlete who designed the exercise to help improve range of motion, strength and balance. The philosophy of Pilates promotes harmony of body and mind. This type of exercise takes concentration, dedication and supervision by a trained Pilates instructor. Pilates exercise movements can be modified to include exercise equipment, such as an exercise ball. Winsor Pilates was developed by Mari Winsor, a former professional dancer and fitness expert. Mari Winsor developed her slimming style of Pilates about 20 years ago. Her form of Pilates emphasizes the slimming and toning nature of Pilates exercises. Mari Winsor trained with a Pilates expert who was trained by Joseph Pilates himself. She opened a studio in Los Angeles where she has trained celebrities as well as regular people. Mari Winsor often employs equipment, such as balls, to enhance the toning and trimming effects of Pilates exercises.

If you want a strong core, Pilates can help you get it. Pilates mat exercises using an exercise ball can help you strengthen your abdominal and back muscles. Balancing on the ball while performing Winsor Pilates exercises engages all of your core muscles. The ball provides an unstable surface which forces your abdominal muscles to continuously make small adjustments to keep your body stable and balanced. Researchers reported in a study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy that women who were previously sedentary developed stronger abdominal and back muscles as well as improved endurance and flexibility.

Regular Pilates workouts can help you develop better posture, too. You’ll experience greater flexibility and greater range of motion as you stretch your muscles and strengthen your joints. Strengthening your back muscles and core can also help prevent or relieve minor back pain caused by weak muscles. You can do Pilates 2 to 3 times each week as part of your strength training routine. Pilates isn’t effective for weight loss, so you still need about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week to lose weight and maintain weight loss.

The exercise ball, also called a stability ball, can be incorporated in Pilates routines to help strengthen your core and back muscles. There are different skill levels of Winsor Pilates ball exercises to accommodate beginners to the Winsor ball expert. No matter how fit you are, you should begin with the easiest form of Winsor Pilates ball exercises until your body becomes accustomed to balancing on the unstable surface of the ball. The intermediate and advanced levels present a challenge by requiring greater coordination with multiple moves. Pilates exercises on an exercise ball include the shoulder bridge, the roll over with scissors, the twist and leg pull. Do knee folds by sitting on the ball with your feet hip-width apart on the floor. Lift one foot off the floor and hold it for 5 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

The first thing you should think about is finding the right Pilates instructor and selecting the right size ball. Not all exercise balls are created equal. Select a ball that gives slightly when you sit on it. You should be able to sit comfortably on the ball with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle with your feet flat on the floor. Practice sitting on the ball to find your balance and adjust your core to stabilizing your body. Once you feel comfortable on the ball, try a few simple Pilates exercises, such as knee folds.

Pilates Portable Studio

Pilates is a form of exercise that helps to improve your core strength, tones and stretches your muscles and improves your overall level of fitness. You can do Pilates workouts at the gym supervised by a trained Pilates instructor or you can try it at home. The Pilates Portable Studio is designed for home use as well as gym exercises. Make sure you know how to do the exercises before you try them at home.

If you like the Pilates Reformer, you can get the same great toning, strengthening and flexibility workout at home with the Portable Studio. You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the Portable Studio at home. It’s easy to use and comes with an illustrated exercises guide. It’s a simple piece of equipment that consists of a bar with 2 resistance bands. You can adjust the length of the bands for a more vigorous workout too. Take the time to focus on the instructional DVD so that you perform the exercises with proper form to reduce your risk of injury.

You can do dozens of effective exercises using the Portable Pilates Studio. Exercises, such as the V-sit, single leg drop and leg circles work your legs, glutes and core. You can firm and tone your arms and upper body by doing elevated curls, chest pulls and the overhead press. Elevated curls and the shoulder press are especially effective to work the triceps on the back of your arm.

The Pilates Portable Studio is effective for firming, toning and strengthening when used properly. The key is that you have to use it. It won’t work if it is gathering dust in your closet. One of the major benefits of the portable studio is it’s simple, easy-to-use design. It works like a Reformer but without the bulk. It’s easier to use than resistance bands alone because you don’t need a door frame or wall mount to stabilize the bands. You can hold the bar with the band handles looped over your feet or stand on the bar and pull the bands with your arms or legs.

Before you start pulling on the Portable Studio bands, thoroughly read the instructions. Don’t try any exercises until you are confident that you understand the moves and proper form. See your doctor for a check-up before you begin any exercise program. Stop exercising immediately if you experience pain. Seek medical attention if pain is severe or does not subside. Wear appropriate workout clothing when exercising. Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to avoid dehydration. Check the condition of your home exercise equipment before each use. Don’t use the Pilates Portable Studio if you notice any tears, loose connections or frayed handles. Store your equipment in a safe place away from children and pets.

Pilates to Firm Your Buttocks and Thighs

Photo Credit: Ebullientben CC-BY-SA-3.0

Doing Pilates exercises is a good way to firm up your body and improve your strength and endurance. Pilates exercises focuses on controlled movements and breathing. This type of exercise improves core strength for stability and strength. Pilates exercises can also firm and tone all the muscles of your body including difficult areas like the thighs and buttocks. You need only a mat or carpeted floor to perform many Pilates exercises to firm and tone your lower body and legs. 
The thighs tend to be a problem area, especially for women. Thigh lifts can help firm up the inner thighs that are especially difficult to exercise. To do thigh lifts, lie down on the floor or on an exercise mat on one side. Support your upper body with your elbow and prop your head up with your hand. Keep your elbow under your shoulder and stretch your body out straight. If you lie down on your right side, your left leg will be on top. Bring your left leg in front of your hips and place your foot on the floor. Grasp your left ankle with your free (left) hand. Breathe in and tighten your abdominal muscles, while simultaneously lifting your right leg a few inches off the floor. Hold the position for 5 seconds. Exhale as you lower your right leg back to the floor. Do 10 repetitions and then switch sides.
Do side thigh lifts from the same starting position, except extend your arm above your head and rest your head on your arm. Stretch your body out in a straight line with one leg on top of the other. If you begin on your left side, you place your right hand on the floor in front of your chest for support. Inhale, squeeze your abdominal muscles and the lift both legs off the floor a few inches. Keep your legs together and hold the position for 5 seconds. Exhale and then lower your legs back to the floor. Do 10 repetitions on each side. 

Pelvic curls will help tone your hips, buttocks and thighs. To do pelvic curls, lie on your back and bend your knees. Place your feet flat on the floor with your feet about hip-width apart. Place your palms on the floor on each side of your body for stability. Exhale as you tighten your abdominal muscles and pull your belly button toward your spine. Inhale and slowly lift your pelvis and buttocks off the floor by curling your body upward from the tailbone and lifting with your legs. Keep your feet, shoulders and palms flat on the floor. Hold the position for 5 seconds. Exhale as you roll your body back to the floor. Repeat this exercise 10 times. 

Get Lean & Strong with Pilates

Pilates exercises develop lean, strong muscles and a strong core. A strong abdomen, hips and lower back area result in better posture and overall improvement in balance. The goal of a Pilates workout is to increase endurance, strength and flexibility. This method of exercise requires concentration, breathing control and stretching. Try a few easy mat exercises as an introduction to Pilates.
Photo Credit: J. Vílchez, Public Domain
Stretch your spine and strengthen your lower back by doing the Pilates spine stretch exercise. Sit on your bottom and press your hip bones against the floor. Stretch your legs straight out and point your toes toward the ceiling. Try to keep your shoulders relaxed while extending your spine, so that your head is lifting toward the ceiling. Breathe in deeply, stretch your arms out toward your toes and drop your chin toward your chest. Your body should form a “C” shape. Keep your arms at the same height as your shoulders. Exhale when you reach the full extension of the stretch. Breathe in and use your ab muscles to pull your body back to an upright position. 
Try the spine twist next since you are in the sitting position. Tighten your abdominal muscles and point your toes toward the ceiling. Stretch your arms out to your sides, keeping them even with your shoulders and with your palms down. Stretch your spine upward until you are sitting as tall as possible. Breathe in deeply and twist your body from your waist. Exhale halfway through the twist, and then continue to twist your upper body, then finish your exhale. Inhale on the return and then repeat by twisting in the other direction. Keep your buttocks firmly on the floor and your lower body as straight as possible. 

The side plank position is an excellent exercise to strengthen the abdominal muscles, arms and legs. From a sitting position, stretch your legs out to one side of your body so that your right hand is on the floor and your left arm is resting on your thigh. Put the top foot in front of the lower foot on the floor. Place the hand on the floor under your shoulder. Spread your fingers a bit for support and stability. Breathe in deeply, tighten your abdominal muscles and press your body upward with your right arm. Extend your left arm toward the ceiling. Support the weight of your body with your abdominal muscles and your shoulder. The front of your body should be perpendicular to the floor. Squeeze your legs together and keep your abs tight for stability. Hold the position for 3 to 5 seconds, breathe out and relax back to the floor. Repeat this exercise on the other side. 
For more information about Pilates exercises, see:

WebMD, Pilates and Yoga: Are They Good Exercise?, by Jodi Helmer, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD. 2011

WebMD, The Benefits of Pilates, by Barbara Russi Sarnataro, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD. 2009