Gentle, but super effective: Pilates promotes targeted muscular tension with complete mental relaxation. We have put together the six most effective Pilates exercises for a solid body and a round soul.
The Pilates exercise was already invented in the early 30 s. And not in Hollywood, but in Germany. The sportsman Joseph Pilates was the inventor of the training method of the same name.
What is Pilates for?
The idea behind the Pilates concept is to build muscles without putting on mass, to find a balance between strength and flexibility and to challenge the body without stressing it. The purpose of the exercise is the absolute harmony between mind and body.
Pilates is a form of low-impact exercise that aims to strengthen muscles while improving postural alignment and flexibility. Pilates moves tend to target the core, even though the exercises work other areas of your body as well. You can do Pilates with or without equipment (more on that below), but no matter what, expect the moves to involve slow, precise movements and breath control. “Pilates is a full-body exercise method that will help you do everything better. “It strengthens and stabilizes your core body, which is your foundation, so that you can move efficiently while improving your posture, flexibility, and mobility.” A typical Pilates workout is forty five minutes to an hour long.
Breathing is an essential element of Pilates. Breathing is considered to be the carrier of energy, which both supports active relaxation and ensures that the muscles are optimally supplied with oxygen during tension.
Pilates differs from conventional gymnastics in its approach to exercises. In the Pilates workout, all movements start from the abdominal, buttock, pelvic floor and lower back muscles, the so-called powerhouse. The trick lies in the precision: By fully concentrating on these body parts, a strong body centre develops over time, the best protection for a healthy spine.
Pilates Exercise 1: The Bridge
The bridge is an excellent Pilates torso stability exercise. This means that one of your goals is to keep your torso really still during the exercise. This exercise strengthens the butt and the back of the legs and teaches core stability. Physical therapists the world over use the bridge because it’s a safe exercise for those with weak or injured back.
Lie flat on your back. The arms are stretched to the side of the body.
When inhaling you bring the entire musculature into a gentle state of tension. The pelvis and breastbone straighten up almost automatically.
Now put your feet up. The knees are angled so that an angle of about 45 degrees is created between the back of the thigh and lower leg.
Next time you inhale, tighten the back of the body, i.e. the buttocks, thigh back and back, loosen the buttocks and the torso from the floor and lift them upwards as far as possible. Ideally, lift your back off the floor until your back and thighs form a straight line.
Hold this position for a few breaths. Then lower your buttocks and trunk slowly and in a controlled manner downwards again, stop a few centimetres from the floor and then lead your buttocks upwards again.
Repeat this Pilates exercise about three to five times.
Variations of the Po Exercise
For advanced users: If you want to make the exercise more difficult, go to the described bridge position. As soon as you feel firm and secure here, release one foot from the ground and stretch your leg straight forward until it hovers horizontally above the ground. Hold this position for a few breaths and then release it again without the pelvis losing its position.
For beginners: The exercises are even more challenging if you put a Pilates ball under your feet during the execution. If you do not have such a ball, you can alternatively use a rolled towel. In both variants, you have a more unstable initial posture, which must be stabilized by exerting the deep postural muscles.
Pilates Exercise 2: Forearm Support (Plank)
Planking is a simple but effective bodyweight exercise. Holding the body (light as a feather) stiff as a board develops strength primarily in the core—the muscles that connect the upper and lower body—as well as the shoulders, arms and gluteus.
This static exercise—meaning the body stays in one position for the entirety of the move—requires no equipment and can be performed just about anywhere (well, use your judgment). Find out how to perfect your plank and fix some of the most common planking mistakes with this guide.
Lie flat on your stomach. Support your forearms on the floor with your fingertips pointing forward. The toes are also firmly placed on the floor.
The next time you inhale, you bring the muscles of the trunk and bottom into a firm tension.
Now lift the body off the floor so that the weight rests on the forearms and toes. The whole body is firm and forms a straight line. Take care not to fall into a hollow back posture.
Hold this position for a few breaths – ideally for one minute – before you relax again and repeat the exercise.
Repeat this Pilates exercise about three to five times.
Variations of the abdominal exercise
For advanced users: If you want to do the Pilates training more intensively, go to the position of the forearm support described at the beginning, try to release one arm carefully from the floor without changing the position of the rest of the body and then stretch out the arm straight in front of the body. Hold this position as long as possible and then change the arm.
For beginners: This Pilates exercise can be made less intensive if you leave your knees on the floor, but otherwise do the exercise as described.
Pilates Exercise 3: Leg lift
Position yourself on the ground in the quadruped position. To do this, place your knees and hands on the floor. The fingertips point forwards or slightly inwards. To protect the joints, make sure that you do not push your arms completely through, but keep them slightly flexed. The toes are in place.
Your buttocks, abdomen and back muscles are tight.
Now lift one of the feet vertically upwards, heel first. Ideally, press the foot up so far that the thigh is in a straight extension of the spine and the lower leg is at a 90 degree angle to it.
Now it starts: Lift the leg in the air as far as it will go straight up without changing the rest of the body. Attention: One falls easily into the hollow back. Tighten the abdomen firmly enough so that no hollow back is created.
Repeat the Pilates exercise 20 times per leg.
Variations of the Po Exercise
For advanced learners: If you want to make the exercise a little more demanding, place a rolled up, large towel under the lower legs on the floor. The towel makes the position more unstable. In order to maintain a firm posture, various muscle groups must actively work together.
Pilates Exercise 4: Neck, Back and Shoulders
Lie flat on your stomach and place the toes firmly on the ground. Place your arms next to your body in a U-posture so that the angle between your upper and forearm is about 90 degrees.
Breathe in and bring the entire postural muscles into a firm basic tension. You also straighten up the pelvis.
As soon as you feel muscularly stable, carefully lift the sternum off the floor. Next, lift your arms off the floor. Your gaze always points downwards, so that the cervical spine is carried in a straight extension to the rest of the spine.
Hold this position without losing the straightening of the pelvis.
Now extend one arm slowly forward alternately and then return it to its basic position.
Approximately 10 to 15 repetitions should be performed per arm.
Variations of the relaxation exercise
Advanced: To make the exercise more challenging, try stretching both arms forward over your head at the same time. Only perform this variation if you notice that the uprightness of your pelvis does not change. The exercise will be even more difficult if you lift your feet slightly off the ground while doing the exercise as described.
Pilates Exercise 5: Firm Posture
Sit upright on the floor with your legs outstretched. The inside of the legs touch. The heels and the undersides of the legs are firmly pressed into the ground.
Pull the toes towards your nose. Raise sternum and pelvis firmly. The back is straight and straight. Imagine you want to make yourself big. In this way you almost automatically assume an upright seat.
Now lift your arms off the side of your body so that there is a 90 degree angle between the arms and the torso.
Now you start the rotation of the upper body. First turn it to the right side. The arms go with this movement, but without providing momentum. The force for the rotation comes only from the middle of the body.
Make sure that the rotation is as independent of the pelvis as possible. If the pelvis should move, you turn the upper body too strongly.
Hold the position with the maximum possible position for about ten seconds and then return to the original position. From here you turn your upper body in the other direction.
Repeat the Pilates exercise with eight to ten turns in each direction.
Variations of the exercise
This exercise aims at a firm posture and stability of the trunk and pelvis. If you feel a strong pull in the back of your legs and therefore cannot hold the basic position safely, raise your knees slightly. Often you sit more securely in this position and can do the exercise more effectively.
Pilates Exercise 6: The Balance
Stand up straight. Stand parallel to each other. Who likes to turn the toes slightly outwards to get more stability.
Breathe in and bring the entire postural muscles into a gentle tension.
Next time inhale, lift your arms parallel and stretched over your head until they form a straight line with the upper body. At the same time you shift the weight to the right leg and lift the left leg stretched back from the floor.
As you lift the leg, the tightly stretched upper body and arms bend forward. Seen from the side, the lifted leg should form a straight line with the upper body and the stretched arms.
Ideally you should reach a position where the imaginary line between leg, upper body and arms is parallel to the floor, i.e. horizontal.
Hold the balance position for ten breaths and then slowly return your stretched leg to the floor, while the stretched upper body and arms also return to their original position. The straight line between leg, upper body and arms should also be maintained during this return.
Relax for a few breaths and then repeat the exercise on the left leg.
Repeat the Pilates exercise two to three times per leg.
Variations of abdominal and back exercises
For advanced users: A simple trick can be used to intensify the exercise of the scales, especially with regard to the training of the trunk, shoulder and arm muscles. Simply take a weight of about one kilo in each hand and do the exercise as usual. If you don’t have a 1-kilo dumbbell at hand, simply use a litre bottle of water instead. And keep a cool atmospher! You have to want to practice yoga at home, it should not be a chore that will make us stress if we did not do it. It’s must be fun, a good little moment of self-exploration.