Pilates is an exercise system that focuses on stability, mobility and breathing. With low impact on the joints, it is an ideal cross-training exercise for avid walkers to lubricate the joints and keep your muscles flexible. The emphasis on moving from your center and strengthening your core can help prevent injury. Try incorporating these five basic Pilates exercises before or after your next walk to see if they make a difference. You will only need a mat and a solid surface to do them.
If you feel any of these movements are difficult due to muscle tension, let your massage therapist know at your next appointment what muscles you would like additional focus on. If you experience any pain with any of these exercises, discuss it with your physician before continuing.
Here are five basic Pilates mat exercises to try. Let’s focus on the three Ts: tummy, thighs and tushy!
Roll Up (3-5 reps)
Lay on the mat with straight legs and arms reaching back, overhead towards your ears. Inhale to lift arms toward the ceiling. Exhale to lift your head, neck and chest off the mat. Continue flexing the spine forward creating a “C” shape as you reach towards your toes. Inhale to roll back onto sacrum. Exhale as your spine greets the mat then return your arms to the overhead position.
Note: Knees can be bent slightly if you have tight hamstrings. Having trouble curling off the mat? Try pressing your hands to your thighs as you lift and lower the upper body.
Single Leg Circles (5x each way)
Lay on the mat with both knees bent and feet flat. Bring the right knee over the hip and straighten the leg toward the ceiling. Reach your toes towards your nose, then across the body. Reach the leg forward and around using your core to lift the leg back up to your start position. Inhale as you move the leg across the body. Exhale as you return the leg to your start position. Reverse the direction of your circle.
Note: The stable leg can remain bent with foot flat on the mat OR you can straighten the leg along the mat with the foot flexed.
Single Leg Pull (5-10 reps)
Laying on the mat, bring both knees over the hips and curl your head, neck and chest off the mat. Pull the right knee to your chest with the right hand at the ankle and the left hand at the knee. Inhale as you bring the left leg straight out at eye level while maintaining the lift in the upper body. Exhale to switch legs.
Note: It’s okay to lift the leg higher than eye level if you have tight hips.
Single Straight Leg (5-10 reps)
Laying on the mat, bring both legs up to the ceiling. Grab one leg as close to the ankle as possible and pull it towards you as the other leg lowers reaching across the room. Switch legs moving from your center. Inhale for 1 set and exhale for 1 set.
Side Kicks: Front and Back (8 reps)
Lay down on your right side with your hips stacked. Move both legs slightly forward on the mat. With your upper body remaining stable, lift the top leg about hip height. Inhale and flex the foot (dorsiflex) and kick the leg to the front. Exhale and point the foot (plantar flex) and extend the leg to the back.
Note: The supporting arm can be flat on the mat instead of having the elbow bent if you experience any neck strain.