Every Body Benefits From Pilates

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Faster Return to Prepregnancy Figure

Many women who have given birth ask me how I got my lower tummy so flat after I had my two kids. It doesn't take that much time, but if you do a few moves on a regular basis, you will see results. Muscles have a beautiful memory. They will bounce back with just a little toning.

The Basics
Every Pilates movement—when done correctly—starts in your core (abdomen), stays in your core, and ends in your core. A strong core:
  • Allows a gymnast to hold a handstand and a yogi to hold a headstand

  • Allows the martial artist to kick through a board and a dancer to leap into the air

  • Puts more oomph in your tennis swing, more speed to your run, and more control in your ski slalom

  • Creates power in your midsection and shrinks middle-age spread, helping you to accomplish goals you never before dreamed possible

  • That's why it's so important that you learn how to move from your core before you attempt any Pilates routine. If you lose the core emphasis, you lose many of the benefits of Pilates. To understand what I'm talking about, try this simple exercise, which I call "zipping up your abs":

    Zipping Up Your Abs

    Lie back on the floor, with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor, and your back slightly arched, as shown on the left. Focus on your pelvic area and your lower abdomen, below the belly button. Pull those muscles up and inward, as if you were zipping up a corset. This upward and inward motion will bring your belly button toward your spine as well as lengthen your torso, creating more space between your ribs and hips.

    Now you've slightly lifted your pelvis and flattened your back but still have a slight neutral curve in your lower back. Take note of the length in your core. Memorize this sensation.

    Imagine that zipper again. Now try to zip yourself up even tighter, lengthening as the imaginary zipper comes up your midsection, almost squeezing yourself taller. This is how you want to feel during every Pilates exercise.

    Your Feet

    Some moves require you to flex your feet. Others require you to point, or extend them. When flexing your feet, press through your heels to create length in your body, but keep your toes straight, not curled back toward your shins. When pointing your toes, create length by extending through your big toe, but don't overpoint, or overextend, by curling your toes toward your arches.

    Your Neck

    Don't arch your neck. Whether sitting or lying in position to do Pilates, you want a long neck. Concentrate on lengthening through the crown of your head and tuck your chin toward your neck slightly.

    Basic Ab Strengthener
    The benefits of this exercise are increased circulation as well as stronger abs, particularly your upper abs. Resist the tendency to work your upper body in this exercise. Relax your arms, and don't use them to pull your head and shoulders up. If your shoulders rise less than an inch, that's okay. Just do your best.

    A. Lie with your back on the floor and your head and neck supported by a pillow or cushion. Your knees should be bent with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows out to the sides.

    B. Press your abs down to your spine and exhale as you curl your ribs toward your hipbones. Inhale as you lower to the floor. Keep your navel flat throughout the exercise. Repeat.

    Lower Ab Strengthener

    This exercise prepares your lower abs—the lower end of your rectus abdominis, a traditional weak spot in women particularly after pregnancy—for tougher Pilates work that follows.

    You should feel the impact of these moves mostly in your lower abs and groin, not your ribs and upper abs. Before lifting your hips, tighten and pull the muscles in your groin up, as if you were holding a penny between your legs in your groin area. Then press your navel down. Doing just those two movements will strengthen your abs, even if your hips don't noticeably rise. Also, remember to relax your head into your fingertips and keep your elbows out of sight.

    A. Lie with your back on the floor and position a pillow or cushion under your hips and buttocks for added support. Raise your legs and bend your knees, crossing your legs at the ankles. Place your hands behind your head. Your elbows should be out to the sides.

    B. Press your abs toward your spine and exhale as you curl your hipbones toward your ribs, initiating the movement with your lower abs. Inhale as you lower your hips. Repeat.

    More Challenging Lower Ab Strengthener

    If you can do the first variation easily, try this one.

    A. Lie with your back on the floor, your hands down at your sides, and a pillow or cushion held between your thighs and calves. Lengthen your body from the crown of your head to your tailbone.

    B. Press your abs toward your spine and exhale as you curl your hipbones toward your ribs. Inhale as you lower your hips. Repeat.