Contrary to popular belief it’s not absolutely necessary to have Pilates equipment or take a class in order to enjoy the benefits of the exercise. There are mat exercises you can do in your home that can engage and strengthen your deeper abdominal muscles and help you tone and shape your entire body to move in the most functional way for the activities of daily life.
Here are five simple at home moves that you can do daily for a quick way to shape up and revitalize your body.
1. Standing or seated spinal mobility:
Benefit: Awakens the spine and helps one to breathe and move better throughout the day.
From an upright standing position, exhale and reach the arms forward while bending the knees and curling the pelvis under to stretch the lower, mid and upper back. Inhale, straighten up, pull the arms back and lift the chest towards the ceiling to engage the back muscles and stretch out the chest and abdomen. Take 5-8 breaths moving slowly and precisely. This can also be done from a seated position on a fitness ball or chair (sit on the very edge of the chair to help with the mobility of the lower back).
2. Standing or seated foot and ankle mobility:
Benefit: Aides in ankle stability and integrity to enhance balance in walking, running and moving.
If standing, lift one knee and hold with arms under thigh (or out to the side for more of a balance challenge) with a lifted chest and neutral torso. If seated in a chair, extend one leg out and lift the thigh to make room to move the ankle. If seated on the floor, extend both legs out in front of the hips and keep the torso upright and straight. Do the following movement patterns with each ankle (or both if seated on the floor): a) Circle the ankle 5 times in each direction, b) point and flex the foot to stretch the top and bottom of the foot in each direction, c) flex the toes back toward the shins and take the foot back and forth like a windshield wiper, moving from the ankle only.
Benefit: Strengthens and mobilizes the entire backside of the body and helps to keep the spine upright in standing.
Lie on the floor with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor in line with the hip bones. Place the weight evenly on each foot and take the arms (palms up) by the hips. Using the deep abdominals, curl the pelvis under, bringing the pubic bone towards the belly button while lighting pressing the lower back towards the floor and pressing into both feet to lift the hips toward the ceiling. Lift the hips high enough to make a straight diagonal line from the knees to the shoulders and keep the weight in the upper back and shoulders. Press into the hands at the top to help open the chest and lower the chin closer to the neck without compressing the neck. Hold at the top for a count of 10 and then roll back down slowly and with control. Repeat 5-7 times.
4. Plank/Semi-Plank or Hover hold:
Benefit: Strengthens the abdominals, legs, arms, shoulders and enhances shoulder stability.
All Fours (level 1): Get on the floor on all fours taking the knees under the hips and the hands under the shoulders. Be sure that you have enough room between the hands and the knees to lengthen your torso to a neutral line. Press the hands firmly into the floor to activate the upper arms and roll the shoulders away from the ears while lifting the sternum to bring the head in line with the upper back and torso. Hold for 30 seconds and take a break and try again for another 30 seconds.
Semi-Plank (level 2): Get into the all fours position and walk both hands about 5-6 inches in front of your chest. Move the shoulders back over the hands and open (extend) the hips to make a long line from the shoulders to the hips. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds.
Plank (level 3): Follow the instructions for Level 2. Once established in the Semi-Plank position, tuck the toes under and press into the feet while straightening the legs. Keep the torso long and straight and the hips in line with the shoulders. Hold for 30-90 seconds.
Hover (level 4 & modification for weak wrists): This position is also good for wrist issues or pain. From the Semi-Plank position, lower the elbows to the floor under the shoulders. Keep the hands in line with the shoulders or allow the hands to come towards one another to make a triangle of the forearms and hands. Either stay in this position for 30-90 seconds or to further challenge the core and upper body, press into the forearms and reach back through the heels to lift the knees off the floor and create a long line from the back of the head through the legs and to the heels.
5. Crunch and variations:
Benefits: Strengthens the abdominals and teaches the correct way to lift the head, neck and shoulders without placing stress on the neck or upper body.
Lie on your back on the floor with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. Bend the elbows and place the fingertips at the temples. Contract the muscles under the armpits to roll the shoulders back and lift the inside of the elbows into the peripheral vision, creating a ‘hammock’ with the upper back, shoulders and elbows that will support the head.
Inhale deeply while slightly tucking the chin in towards the chest, then exhale and lift the upper body into a ‘crunch’ by sliding the ribs towards the hips and allowing the head, neck and shoulders to lift high enough to release any tension in the neck from gravity (the lift needs to be high enough to bring the eyes’ vision to between the thighs or over the knee caps). Take an inhale breath at the top and exhale to release back to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.
Variation: Lift one or both knees above the hips as the upper body curls up. Keep the knees at a 90 degree angle as you lift, changing only the angle of the hip and not the knee.
Total time: 10-15 minutes