If you’re a fan of aerobics or weights training, you might not feel you have time for pilates.
But pilates brings specific benefits that other workouts won’t.
To begin with, the risk of injury is very small since you are working with bodyweight mainly. And you only need an exercise band or ball if you want to push yourself further.
Pilates also excels at targeting otherwise-unused muscles, especially those that are internal, and that helps to strengthen your body from within.
Here are the five essential pilates exercises you should try to do every day.
Related: Key health benefits of Pilates
The plank: for a stronger core
Stronger muscles in your ‘core’, the abdominal and lower-back area of your body, mean less backache, a taller posture and improved balance. It can even aid your digestive system since if you stand taller, your intestines are given the space they need to digest food properly.
Do this: On the floor, place your hands so they are below your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes in so that you can now slowly raise your knees off the floor. (You can stay on your knees, if you wish, just make sure your spine is long.)
Focus on the last bones of your spine (at the top of your buttocks) and imagine you are tucking them in like a tail.
This makes your back longer, while crunching your abs at the same time.
Related: Exercises for a stronger back
The hundred: for a flatter stomach
It’s not necessary to do hundreds of crunches to have stronger abdominal muscles and a toned flat stomach. This pilates move works those muscles hard. But without the risk of hurting your neck muscles, which is often a problem with crunches when not done correctly.
Do this: Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and your feet flat on the floor so your knees are bent. The heels of your feet should be in line with your hips.
Take a deep breath and then as you breathe out, raise your feet and legs so that your lower legs are parallel to the floor. This is called the table top position.
Now breathe in again and reach towards the ceiling with your arms, keeping them straight. Breathe out again as you bring your arms back down and at the same time slowly raise your head, neck and shoulders off the ground. This will work your abdominal muscles.
Related: How to get rid of belly fat
The letter T: better posture
All your back muscles are important for posture, as are your abdominals. But you’ll also want to work on your upper body muscles to ensure that your chest is open and your shoulders are strong and held back naturally. That’s what this move works on.
Do this: Lie on your stomach. Then, with your arms out to the sides like a ’T’ (or a plane) and palms down, carefully raise your head and chest so they’re no longer touching the floor.
Now breathe out and moves your arms backwards so that your hands are pointing towards your feet. Your head and chest should naturally rise a little more as you do this. Bring your arms close to your body to feel your upper back muscles work a little harder.
Related: How to improve your posture
The bridge: solve lower back pain
When physiotherapists recommend exercises to help prevent lower back pain, the bridge is usually one of the first they mention.
That’s because it helps work various muscles in the lower back region that support your spine and help prevent pain that can come from pressure you put on it, by sitting for long periods of time or lifting and so on.
Do this: Lying on your back, with your arms relaxed at your sides, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Now inhale as you lift your bottom off the floor, while keeping your upper body in line with your lower body (so it is in a straight line). Do not arch your back.
Hold the up position and breathe in and out five times. When you come back down to the floor do it slowly and carefully, letting your spine curve so that each vertebra touches the floor one at a time.
Related: Self-help for lower back pain
Seated twist: toned waist
Pilates puts your body into positions that you may not use on a daily basis and by doing so helps strengthen your muscles.
So, although you might spend a lot of time sitting and thereby putting pressure on your spine, you probably don’t exercise your back and abdominal muscles much by twisting from one side to another. That’s what this move does for you.
Do this: Grab an exercise band or a scarf if you don’t have a band. Now, sitting with your legs straight out in front of you, hip-width apart, raise your arms above your head with the scarf or band held taught in your hands.
Breathe out as you turn to one side, feeling the muscles in your midriff working to put you there.
Now lean a little farther, just enough so that you can feel your abdominal muscles really engage. Breathe out, then go back to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Nb: If you aren't used to exercise, see your GP before you start. They'll be able to tell you the right type of exercise for you, and give advice on starting slowly and building up gently.