It seems like everyone, including fitness gurus, celebrities, professional athletes—and probably some of your friends—can’t say enough about the core-strengthening, flexibility-building benefits of Pilates. If you haven’t tried it yet, maybe it’s time! No need to sign up for a class or buy equipment—just get a steady chair (one that doesn’t roll) without arms.
While Pilates might seem like a “new” trend, it actually was developed in the 1920s and gained popularity in this country during the 1960s and ’70s. Designed as a complete mind-body regimen, Pilates incorporates breath and alignment principles into a full-body workout that strengthens the abdominal, back and pelvic muscles needed for nearly all body movements. Pilates also increases flexibility and helps make your movements more efficient, protecting you from injury as you go about your daily activities.
READY FOR SOME CHAIR PILATES? LET’S GET STARTED…
Pilates—especially more advanced moves—can seem intimidating. But many moves are perfect for beginners.
Below is an easy routine that is suitable for older people who may have less flexibility or anyone who has been sedentary and is just starting Pilates.* Except for the last move, each exercise starts in a seated position with feet flat on the floor, spine neutral (maintain the natural curve of your lower spine) and knees hip-width apart. For the most benefit, do the whole routine two to three times a week.
1. Seated Rotation: Works the transverse abdominis (the deepest layer of front abdominal muscles—beneath your “six-pack” muscles) and obliques (side abdominals), helps pelvic stability and mid-back (thoracic) flexibility. What to do: Clasp your hands behind your head and slowly exhale as you rotate your upper body to the right…and slowly inhale, pulling in your abdominals, as you rotate back to center. Then exhale as you rotate to the left…and inhale as you rotate back to center. Keep your buttocks stable on the seat of the chair. Repeat (center-right-center-left-center) eight times.
2. Seated Leg Lifts: Also works the transverse abdominis, as well as strengthens hip flexors. What to do: Keeping your hips stable, inhale as you slowly lift one foot two inches straight up from the floor (your knee should stay bent)…and exhale as you slowly lower your foot back to the floor. Then do the same with the other foot. Important: Tighten your abdominal muscles and feel the lift coming from your abs, not your leg muscles. Repeat the move (alternately lifting each foot) 10 times.
3. Seated Saw: Encourages mid-back rotation, core engagement and stretches the upper body. What to do: Start with arms raised straight out to your sides, making a “T” with your torso. In a smooth move, rotate your torso to the right, bending forward to reach down with your left arm to touch your left pinky finger to the outside of your right foot…then straighten back to the starting position…and rotate to the left, bending forward to touch your right pinky finger to the outside of your left foot…and return to the starting position. Repeat the whole move five times.
4. Sit-to-Stand: Targets the transverse abdominis muscles and the major muscles of the legs—quads (front thigh), glutes (buttocks) and hamstrings (rear thigh). What to do: Sit with arms held straight out in front. Take a breath and exhale slowly as you stand up. Then take another breath and exhale slowly as you slowly sit back down. Note: Don’t crash down onto the chair. If you do, you’re not using your muscles enough! Repeat 10 times.
5. Hamstring Stretch: Stretches the lower back, hamstrings and calf muscles. What to do: Stand facing a chair, about a foot or so in front of it. Bend forward at your hips and place your hands flat on the chair seat with your arms straight but elbows not locked. Keep your upper back flat (not rounded) with your pelvis neutral (that is, maintain the natural curvature of your lower spine) and your legs straight but knees not locked. Take a deep, slow breath in…and then exhale slowly. Repeat the breath pattern for a total of five times. Alternative: If you can’t straighten your legs while leaning on your hands on the chair seat, raise the height of the seat with a couple of large books.
*Consult your doctor before starting this (or any new) exercise program.