Quick GuidePilates for Beginners in Pictures: Moves for Abs, Toning, and More

Pilates for Beginners in Pictures: Moves for Abs, Toning, and More

What should I wear to a Pilates class?

Wear clothing that you can move comfortably in. Leotards, tights, sweatpants, shorts, tank tops, or any other clothing that stretches will work. Your instructor will need to see your body, so tighter-fitting clothing is better, plus loose or baggy clothing might not be your best choice because you will be put into positions on the machines that may reveal more of you than you are comfortable with. You will be barefoot or just in socks, so shoes are not an issue. Leave long necklaces or large bracelets at home as they will interfere with your workout.

What is Pilates mat work?

Pilates mat work is a series of exercises that are done on the floor without Pilates machines. The attention to the flow of movement and to the core muscles is the same as when you do Pilates on the machines, and mat work is a challenging workout in its own right. There is a growing demand for Pilates, but because qualified Pilates instructors may be lacking in your area and the machines take up space and are expensive, Pilates on the mat may be your best bet. Below are some exercises that you can do at home. A yoga mat or any type of exercise mat will do. Spread out two or three heavy bath towels on the floor if you don't have a mat. Check with your doctor before doing any of these exercises if you have medical or orthopedic conditions that affect your movement. Stop doing any exercise that causes pain. I recommend a simple knee hug before and after these exercise to keep your lower back loose. To do a knee hug, lie on your back, allow your back and shoulders to sink into the floor, then hug one knee to your chest, then the other, then both. Repeat six to eight times or until your lower back feels looser.

Teaser (works abdominals)

    1. Lie on your back, with the soles of your feet flat on floor, knees squeezing together, arms overhead stretching behind you.

    2. Inhale and exhale and allow your spine to sink into the floor.

    3. Bring your arms forward, and let your head and torso follow.

    4. Roll up to a midway point between lying down and sitting up and hold that position (your abdominals should be working the entire time) for three seconds.

    5. Let your arms go back, and then lower your torso and head to the floor.

    6. Repeat six to eight times.

The hundred (works abdominals)

    1. Lie on your back, and pull your knees to your chest. Exhale as your chest and abdomen sink into the floor.

    2. Straighten your arms along your sides, and lift your legs straight up to the ceiling.

    3. Lift your head and shoulders so that you are looking toward your feet.

    4. Squeeze your buttocks and inner thighs together so that you cannot see between your legs.

    5. Start moving your arms up and down along your sides about 12 inches in a rapid motion. Breathe in and hold for five seconds, and then exhale for five seconds as you try to reach forward even more.

    6. Lower your legs halfway down toward the floor (legs should be at a 45-degree angle from your hips).

    7. Continue to move your arms up and down and hold for a count of 50 to 100.

Leg circles (works legs and hips)

    1. Lie on your back with your arms at your side.

    2. Inhale and exhale and allow your spine to sink into the floor.

    3. Straighten your leg toward the ceiling and point your toe.

    4. Keep your opposite leg straight (the one on the floor).

    5. Move your leg across your body, draw a small circle with it, and bring it back to the starting position. Make sure to keep your hips flat on the floor.

    6. Move your leg in the opposite direction (away from the center line of your body), draw a small circle with it, and then return to the starting position.

    7. Repeat six to eight times on each side.

The corkscrew (works abs, back, and legs)

    1. Lie on your back with your arms at your side.

    2. Straighten your legs toward the ceiling, keeping your thighs and knees close together.

    3. Inhale and exhale and allow your spine to sink into the floor.

    4. Inhale and move both legs to one side and draw a small circle with them while keeping them close together.

    5. Make sure to keep your hips on the floor when you circle.

    6. Return to starting position, and then repeat on the other side.

    7. Repeat five to six times on each side.

The crisscross (works abdominals and legs)

    1. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head.

    2. Lift your head, and bring your knees toward your chest.

    3. Straighten your right leg and then lift, and twist your torso until your right elbow touches your left knee.

    4. Hold the position for one to two seconds.

    5. Repeat with the other side.

    6. Exhale fully as you hold each position.

    7. Keep your shoulders as high off the floor as possible.

    8. Repeat eight to 10 times on each side.

    9. Finish by pulling both knees to your chest, and then roll up to sitting position.

Spine twist (works abs and back)

    1. While on the floor, sit up very straight (try to make a 90-degree angle at your hips).

    2. Straighten your legs out in front of you and squeeze them together.

    3. Straighten your arms out to your sides at shoulder height and parallel with the floor.

    4. Breathe in and try to pull your belly button toward your spine.

    5. Exhale and rotate your torso toward one side while keeping your upright posture.

    6. Keep your buttocks on the floor and look behind you.

    7. Hold for one to two seconds and then inhale and return to starting position.

    8. Repeat on the other side.

If you're looking for a novel and challenging workout that will help strengthen, tighten, and loosen up your muscles, then Pilates might be just the thing. You can do it in classes or privately, on machines or on the floor, or at home on your own following a DVD or video. Pilates may not be for everyone, but if you're adventurous and thinking about it, I encourage you to give it a try. Any activity that expands your fitness choices is worth the effort, and if you think you need variety to stay motivated, then go for it!

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