What sets Pilates apart is its focus on toning the muscles with springs, bands, or your own body weight. Alycea Ungaro, author of 15 Minute Everyday Pilates, shares her routine for beginners. Some moves are shown using Pilates studio equipment, but you can do most moves at home. Check with a doctor first if you're a man over 45 or a woman over 55, or if you have a medical condition.
Flat Abs: Pilates Hundred
This classic move helps flatten the tummy by using your abs efficiently. Hold on behind the knees, scoop the belly in, and curl down to the floor to get into position. Now curl the head and shoulders up slightly, lower back still pressed to the floor. Pump the arms up and down in small motions at your sides. Breathe in for five and out for five until you hit 50 pumps. Sit up and repeat for a total of 100 pumps.
Flat Abs: Hundred on the Reformer
In a studio, you can try the Pilates hundred on a reformer, a spring-based resistance machine. Lie on your back with your legs in table-top position or extended at a 45-degree angle. Pull the straps down next to your abdomen. Curl the head and shoulders up and pulse your arms up and down. Breathe in for five and out for five until you reach 100 pulses. If any move doesn't feel right, check with a fitness professional.
Flat Abs: Roll-Up
Begin this starter sit-up with your legs straight in front of you. Extend your arms over your legs and lower your head between your arms. Curl backward, bending your knees, and stop halfway down. Raise your arms straight up and pull your abs in tightly. Exhale and lower your arms as you curl back up. Do 6-8 reps at a moderate pace. As you become more advanced, try lowering all the way to the floor.
Flat Abs: Neck Peel
If sit-ups give you a sore neck, try this alternative. Lie flat with the end of a resistance band or towel tucked under the center of your back. Bend your knees and grab the other end of the band above your head. Inhale and use your ab muscles to slowly peel your body up, letting your head rest against the band. Exhale and return to the starting position. Do five reps, making sure your abs do all the work.
Obliques: Twist and Reach
Keep that resistance band handy for this waist-toning move. Sit with your legs a little more than hip-distance apart. Hold the band between your hands and raise your arms overhead. Exhale as you turn to one side, using the muscles in your waist. Inhale as you reach the arms out and back, keeping the hips in place. Exhale and return to starting position. Alternate for a total of four sets on each side.
Lower Back: Shoulder Bridge, Part 1
As you strengthen your abs, it's vital to tone the back of the body as well. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart. Keep your arms at your sides and raise your hips without arching your back. Tighten the muscles of your buttocks and hamstrings, and hold for five breaths. Lower down one vertebra at a time to the floor if you're stopping here, or go on to the advanced posture.
Lower Back: Shoulder Bridge, Part 2
Keeping your hips raised, extend one leg straight up and point the foot. Kick the leg down and out, flexing the foot. Repeat, exhaling as you extend the leg up and inhaling as you kick it down. Keep your torso strong and your other foot firmly on the mat. Do five reps with each leg.
Upper Back: Pulling Straps
Toning the upper back is the fast track to better posture. This move uses the reformer with an accessory called a long box. Lie on your stomach with your chest just past the edge of the long box. Grab the straps in front of you with straight arms. Lift the head and chest as you pull the straps down toward your hips. The long box will slide forward, with you on top. Release the arms back to the starting position. Do five reps.
Fitness means being able to perform physical activity. It also means having the energy and strength to feel as good as possible. Getting more fit, even a little bit, can improve your health.