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Fitter, Happier

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Beginning a fitness program in the new year is a pretty standard objective for many people. Sticking to it is another story. The hard drive experienced in January often comes to a grinding halt come February.

Beginning a fitness program in the new year is a pretty standard objective for many people. Sticking to it is another story.

The hard drive experienced in January often comes to a grinding halt come February. If this sounds like you, take comfort in knowing you are not alone - motivation to exercise is hard to come by.

Whether you started your new fitness regimen in a group aerobics class, swimming laps or trying your hand at an indoor racquet sport, a few Pilates exercises might give you the boost you need to jump back on the workout wagon.

Pilates isn't a go-for-the-burn or work-till-you-drop form of exercise. It is gentle but challenging, encourages mental focus and body awareness, increases flexibility and strength, while improving posture and enhancing overall mobility. Give the following movements a try and you may just find yourself excited about exercise all over again.

Hundred

Starting position: Lie face up on the mat with legs in tabletop position. Abdominals are engaged and lower back is gently flattened toward the mat (imprinted position). Arms are long by the sides with palms facing down and shoulders sliding gently away from the ears.

The exercise: Inhale, and nod chin, maintaining an egg-width distance between chin and chest. Exhale, connect with the abdominals by pulling navel to spine and curl the upper body away from the mat into a mini sit-up position. Lift arms off the mat so they are level with shoulders. Inhale for five counts, keeping the upper body lifted and steady in place while doing small vertical pulses with the arms. Exhale for five counts, continuing to pulse arms strongly toward the mat. Repeat 10 times (a total of 100 counts). To finish, inhale, and keep the upper body lifted while reaching for the toes. Exhale, and return upper body to the mat, ensuring the imprint of the pelvis is maintained.

Half Roll Back

Starting position: Sit with knees bent, and feet and knees separated slightly. Spine is bent over legs in a "C" shape. Arms are reaching forward. Relax shoulders and create width across the collarbone.

The exercise: Inhale to prepare. Exhale, maintaining a "C" shape with the spine as you roll halfway back. Initiate from the bottom of the spine by tucking the tailbone between the legs. The abdominals should remain flattened throughout the exercise. Inhale, and stay in "C" shape. Exhale, flatten stomach further and use abdominals to return to starting position. Maintain a rounded spine throughout the movement. Repeat five to eight times.

Obliques

Starting position: Lie face up on the mat. Hands behind head, and upper body lifted off the mat (spinal flexion). Avoid pulling on neck or head. Legs in tabletop position, abdominals engaged, and lower back gently flattened toward the mat (imprinted position). Ensure shoulders are gently sliding away from ears.

The exercise: Inhale to prepare. Exhale, and extend one leg on a 45 degree angle and simultaneously rotate upper body toward flexed knee. Inhale, maintaining upper body lift (spinal flexion) as spine returns to centre and legs begin to switch. Exhale, and extend other leg while rotating upper body to the opposite side. Repeat eight to 10 times.

Breast Stroke Prep #1

Starting position: Lie face down on the mat with pelvis neutral. Elbows are bent with forearms on the mat about shoulder-width apart. Keep legs long and held together. Neck should be long with the nose pointing toward the mat.

The exercise: Inhale to prepare. Exhale, and pull navel to the spine while sliding shoulders away from ears. Use upper back muscles to lift upper body away from the mat, allowing slight pressure on the forearms. Keep bottom ribs in contact with the mat. Inhale, stay lifted and lengthen spine from head to toe. Exhale, lower torso to the mat with control, still imagining length throughout the spine. Repeat three to five times.

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