Watch the video below for a great tummy-toning Pilates exercise
Exercise physiologist Michelle Drielsma looks at the best Pilates exercises for toning your tummy, pelvic floor and bottom.
Pilates is a physical conditioning system developed in the early 20th century by a German man named Joseph Pilates. Legend has it, while he was working in England as a nurse during the war, Joseph adapted the resources to create a unique resistance system using springs and hospital bed frames to help his patients regain their strength.
Joseph then used the style to rehabilitate injured dancers and from there on the modern style was born. Pilates includes stretching and breathing synchronised with resisted (bodyweight or springs) movement, with a massive focus on strengthening the abdominal core. A goal in Pilates is to strengthen the postural muscles while achieving muscle strength and fitness.
Pilates can be an excellent initial form of exercise for post-natal conditioning to get your deep abdominals engaging again, especially with one-on-one coaching. For the more experienced exerciser, I'd recommend using it to supplement other forms of exercise, such as weight training, athletics, climbing or playing sports.
Toning Pilates exercises
Tummy strengtheners (focuses on the lower abdominals)
Lie on your back with your knees bent approximately 90 degrees (feet off floor) and your pelvis rotated backward just enough to press into the thickness of the palm of your hand. It helps to place a towel rolled-up to the thickness of the palm of your hand just under your lower back at bellybutton level to get an idea of how far to tilt your pelvis backward. This is an "Elvis Pelvis" action for those who are not sure how to move their hips.
Hold your arms out to the side on the floor and draw your bellybutton down to the floor. As you exhale, tap one foot to the floor, keeping your lower back pressed into the towel gently and your bellybutton sucked downward. Inhale to return to the start position, and exhale to tap the opposite foot to the floor, inhale to return.
Repeat 10 to 16 times total. When this becomes easy you can try double leg (both feet tapping floor) but watch that lower back doesn't move. Focus on steady, controlled breathing and smooth timing of movement with the breath. This can be quite meditative.
Pelvic floor and deep abdominal strengthener
On your hands and knees, place your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Hold a neutral spine position (not too much or too little curve in the lower back) and hold your head up in line with the spine (chin tucked in).
Inhale and completely relax the tummy, exhale and draw up the bellybutton tight towards the spine. While sucking up the tummy, engage your pelvic floor. Hold this and when you need to inhale again, relax the tummy. As you exhale, again lift the bellybutton and contract your pelvic floor. Perform about 10 reps before graduating to the next variations.
- On the exhale, decompress your right hand and your left knee, without shifting your bodyweight to the side or moving your neutral spine position. When done correctly, this is a really tough exercise and most people need to stay here for a while. Check your head is held back in line with your spine always (there is a tendency to droop the head down like a depressed donkey). Inhale to return your weight evenly on both hands and knees, exhale to decompress the other side (left hand, right knee). Perform 10 to 20 reps.
- Do the same as above and place weight plates on your upper back (a trainer is helpful here). Five kilogram, 10kg, 15kg amd 20kg have been used before (it's not quite "Pilates", I know).
- Start crawling forward and backward without excessively shifting your bodyweight sideways, or dropping into your shoulders or hips, or moving the spine position.
Lie on your back with your arms out to the sides, legs bent and feet on the floor close to the buttocks. Exhale and lift your hips up so there is a straight line from your knees to your hips to your shoulders. Hold this position, take a breath in and on the exhale, decompress your right foot (keep those hips up).
Inhale to return your weight evenly onto both feet (keeping the hips up throughout) and exhale to decompress your left foot. Complete six to 12 reps.
Keep in mind that when an exercise becomes easy for you, or your pain or injury has improved and you are functioning better, it is time to change to a new movement to get the most out of your training.