Pilates to Firm Your Buttocks and Thighs

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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. 

Benefits of Yoga

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Yoga is an excellent way to calm your mind, stretch your muscles and improve your level of fitness. Some people envision bodies contorted like pretzels when they think about yoga. Yoga is a great way to stretch all the muscles of your body, improve your range of motion and get a good non-aerobic workout. Stretching your muscles releases stored lactic acid from the muscle tissues that causes stiffness, soreness and tension in your muscles. There are different styles of yoga each designed for different outcomes. Power yoga, called ashtanga, is a vigorous style of exercise that will improve your muscle tone. Iyengar style yoga focuses on precise poses that improve strength and endurance. Standing positions can improve the strength in your legs and abdominal muscles as well as improve balance. 
Yoga helps improve your posture. Standing and sitting positions help to strengthen your core and your back muscles. Holding yoga poses strengthens the abdominal and back muscles. Stronger core muscles helps you to maintain good posture throughout the day whether you are sitting, standing or walking. The more you practice yoga poses, the more aware you become of your body and your posture. You are less likely to slump when sitting and to stand up straight because of increased body awareness.
Deep breathing exercises when doing yoga can improve your lung capacity. Deeper breathing increases the oxygen in your blood, which can improve your performance and endurance when doing more strenuous exercise. Deep breathing yoga exercises also helps you to relax by reducing the amount of adrenalin in your body. 

People who suffer from neck, spine, and shoulder injuries should not do yoga or any other stretching exercise without a doctor’s approval. Those who suffer from osteoporosis and pregnant women should also avoid yoga exercises. See your doctor before beginning a yoga program. Don’t try to do yoga on your own. Find a qualified yoga fitness instructor so that you learn the proper way to perform yoga poses and stretches. 

Exercises for Shoulders Strength

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Shoulder injuries usually result from overuse of the muscles and joints. Bursitis and tendinitis are common injuries for those who use their arms in an overhead motion like swimmers, tennis players or baseball players. These injuries cause pain in the joint and radiating down the arm. Shoulder injuries are especially painful when the arm is raised over the head. Strengthening the muscles in the shoulder area may help to prevent shoulder injuries. Inchworm crawls and raised-leg push-ups will strengthen your chest and shoulders as well as your abs and legs. Keep your spine straight while doing these exercises and resist the urge to bow your back upward. 
Begin by standing with your feet about hip-width apart. Squeeze your abdominal muscles and then bend forward until your palms are on the floor in front of your feet. Keep your knees straight. Your body should form an inverted “V” shape. Walk forward on your hands until the heels of your feet lift off the floor. Hold this position for a couple of seconds and breathe. Continue walking forward on your hands and lowering your body until you are in a sit-up position. Keep your spine in a straight line from your head to your heels. Do a couple of push-ups and then slowly lower your entire body straight down until your chest touches the floor. You can allow your elbows to extend outward from your body during this part of the exercise. Finish the exercise by slowly walking your feet toward your hands. Take small steps on your toes until you return to the inverted “V” position. Repeat this exercise until you have moved about 20 yards. 

Push-ups are another exercise that will help to strengthen your shoulders. The raised-leg variation on the push-up is a more advanced push-up that will strengthen the shoulder and abdominal muscles. Begin in the standard push-up position with your hands beneath your shoulders, arms straight and body forming a straight line from your head to your heels. Rest your lower body weight on your toes. Before beginning the downward phase of the push-up, raise one leg toward the ceiling. Lift your leg about 6 to 8 inches above your other leg and point your toes. Perform 10 to 15 push-ups and then lower your leg. Raise your other leg and repeat. 

No Equipment Thigh Strengthening Exercises

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Strong thighs are important for bearing the weight of your body, endurance and balance. Weak or under-developed thigh muscles may be susceptible to injury from exercise. You can strengthen your thighs without the need for equipment. Stretches and jumping exercises can help you strengthen your thighs. 
Kneeling thigh stretches are easy to perform, but don’t let the ease of this exercise fool you! It’s a powerful way to strengthen and tone your thigh muscles. Kneel on the floor or on an exercise mat for comfort. Keep your knees about hip-width apart. Your toes should be pointing at the wall behind you and your weight on your leg from your knees, down your shin and across the top of your foot. Stretch your torso up tall toward the ceiling and squeeze your abdominal muscles. Don’t drop your chin, but keep your head up looking straight ahead. When you are ready, shift your weight back and bring your hips toward your heels. Move your arms back and brace yourself by placing your fingertips on the floor on either side of your legs. Hold this position for 10 to 20 seconds and then return to the start position. Do 5 to 7 repetitions of this exercise. Increase the length of time you hold the position and the number of repetitions as your strength and endurance increase.  
Jump and reach to stretch your thigh muscles and increase flexibility. Begin by standing in an upright position with your legs hip-width apart and your arms relaxed at your side. Shift your weight back on your hips and lower yourself toward a sitting position, as in a squat. When you feel your heels lift off the floor, reach your arms upward toward the ceiling and push your body upward from your feet, through your legs and thighs in an explosive push toward the ceiling. The momentum of swinging your arms up with a simultaneous push upwards will help you reach high.

Kickboxing Your Way to a Fitter You

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Kickboxing has become more popular in recent years with gyms offering classes and people lining up to kick their way to a leaner, stronger body. There are instructional videos on the Internet and available for purchase. Many late night infomercials offer variations of kickboxing workouts to sleepless viewers. Many of the most popular kickboxing-style exercise DVDs and gym programs combine a high-intensity aerobic workout with punching, kicking and blocking m moves. These exercises help to build strength, flexibility, endurance and confidence. Kickboxing style exercise is not for everyone, but it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. A kickboxing class at a gym is a fun way to get fit in a group with a competent fitness instructor to guide you all along the way. 

Most routines in kickboxing are designed to be against an imaginary opponent, but some classes are designed where the members spar with each other or kick a heavy bag. You can burn more than 400 calories per hour in a kickboxing class. Get a checkup at your doctor’s office and tell him or her that you want to take a kickboxing class. If your doctor gives you a green light, join a class for beginners. Introduce yourself to the instructor and get a list of equipment you may need for the class. Come prepared to get a serious workout that will leave you feeling exhausted but confident. 

Exercise While Pregnant

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Pregnant women who exercised regularly before pregnancy can continue to exercise, if they take a few precautions. As long as you are in good health, not at risk for miscarriage and do not engage in strenuous exercise, a pregnant woman can enjoy regular physical exercise. Women who have not been physically active or engaged only in light, occasional physical activity before pregnancy should not start an exercise program more strenuous than walking. You are going to need strength and stamina to get through your pregnancy and delivery. Check with your doctor before beginning or continuing any exercise program. Women who are pregnant may benefit from light exercise in many ways. Walking and stretching exercises can help to relieve low back pain and prevent excessive weight gain. Swimming is a whole body aerobic exercise that most pregnant women can safely do throughout pregnancy to remain fit and control weight gain. Excess weight gain during pregnancy can contribute to gestational diabetes, high blood pressure and may even contribute to postpartum conditions like depression. Pregnant women who experience pregnancy-related conditions or are at risk for certain conditions should not exercise except on the advice and supervision of their doctor. Those who are at risk and should avoid exercise include women who are at risk for miscarriage or who have had a miscarriage in the past, history of premature delivery, bleeding or spotting and those with weak cervix or low placenta. Stretching exercises are especially helpful to maintain muscle tone and help to maintain flexibility. Stretching is important before other exercise, including walking, using a treadmill or swimming, to help reduce the risk of muscle strain. 

Begin a stretching exercise session with your neck and work your way to your feet. Sit in a comfortable chair or sit on the floor in a comfortable position. Place your hands on your thighs palms down and sit up straight and tall. Relax your shoulders and  your neck, and then drop your chin forward toward your chest. Rotate your whole head toward your right shoulder and then back to the middle of your chest. Continue rotating to the left shoulder and then back to your chest. Repeat this stretching exercise 5 times. 

Stretch your arms and shoulders to help relieve upper back stress and energize your whole body. Sit up straight, drop your shoulders down and back to straighten your back. Stretch your right arm forward and lean to the right stretching toward your fingertips. Return your right arm back to your side and then stretch forward with your left arm, and lean forward with your body stretching toward your left fingertips. Alternate back and forth in a swimming motion. Repeat this exercise for 10 repetitions. 
Kegel exercises during pregnancy strengthen the muscles of the abdominal floor that support the uterus, intestines and bladder. Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your arms relaxed at your sides. Sit up straight, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor and then relax the muscles. To tighten the muscles in your pelvic floor, pretend that you are trying to stop the flow of urine midstream. Squeeze the muscles that you would use to stop your urine. Perform Kegel exercises anytime of the day, as often as you want, but try to do at least 10 sets of five contractions each day. Hold each muscle contraction for 5 to 8 seconds. Remember to breathe when doing Kegel exercises and do not contract your abdominal muscles while performing this exercise. 
Walking is a safe, effective form of aerobic exercise that can help a pregnant woman control her weight gain, remain physically fit and feel energized. Take extra precautions when walking while pregnant to avoid falls. Walk on smooth, flat areas such as sidewalks and walking trails. Do not walk when your path is covered in snow, ice or rain, which can make surfaces slippery and may result in a fall. Walk with a partner or a friend and avoid overexertion. A 20 to 30 minute walk every other day is generally safe for most pregnant women. 

For more information about safe exercises during pregnancy, see:

3 Exercises for Strong, Toned Legs

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Strong, toned, muscular legs are more than just physically attractive. Strong legs support your body and carry you through the day. Strong legs also improve your balance and posture. If your leg muscles are strong, you are also less likely to suffer sprains and joint pains. 
Try some single leg squats to develop your calf muscles. Stand with your hands on your hips and your feet about hip-width apart. Place your right foot slightly forward from your left foot and shift your body weight to your right foot. Tighten your abs, breathe in and then lift your left foot off the floor about 2 to 3 inches. Slowly lower your body to a sitting position. Keep your weight on your right leg, but you can rest your left toes on the floor for balance and stability, if needed. As you lower your body by bending your right knee, allow your left leg to straighten out and slide forward. Keep your back straight and try not to lean forward as you lower your body. Exhale and push back up to a standing position using your leg. Do 5 squats with each leg. 
Stretch your calf muscle for lean, toned legs. Face a wall about arm-length away and place your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Place your palms on the wall about 2 to 3 inches higher than your shoulder height. Step forward with your left leg and keep both feet on the floor. Squeeze your abs, breathe in and move your upper body toward the wall. This will stretch the calf muscle of your left leg (the leg behind). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, and then push your body back upright. Repeat this exercise 10 times for each leg. 
Stretch the hamstring on the back of your leg by lying on the floor flat on your back in a doorway. Place the back of one leg against the wall straight up from your hip. Allow the other leg to stretch out straight through the doorway. Push against the wall with the back of your leg that is parallel to the wall and point your toes toward the ceiling. Hold the position and then relax. Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times for each leg.