30 Day Fitness Challenge: Day 8- Pilates for Balance and Flexibility
by Sarah Faller
The Pilates Method is well known for its ability to strengthen the core and create a long, lean physique. But did you know that practicing Pilates can also help you improve your balance and flexibility?
To obtain good balance you need sufficient core strength, hip strength and overall body awareness. The Pilates Method helps develop a deeper mind-body connection and all strengthening exercises are done with the focus on proper form/alignment.
Obtaining greater flexibility actually takes a lot more than just stretching. Pilates works towards improving range of motion by targeting tight/weak muscle groups and using muscle groups’ contractions to release the opposing tight muscles. It also works on improving the mobility of the spine while performing the many “rolling” exercises in its repertoire.
1) Single Leg circles: Great for core strength, hip range of motion
Begin lying supine or on your back, holding right knee towards your chest. Left leg may be bent or straight. Press thigh outwards into your hands as you press right heel towards ceiling.
Keeping right leg where it is place arms by your sides and imagine five anchors of the body: two palms, two hips and your navel drawing in towards your spine. Now begin drawing clockwise circles with the right leg, never going past the center line of your body. Start with small circles and be sure your anchors are staying firmly in place throughout the exercise. Repeat with counter-clockwise circles, performing 10 circles in each direction on each leg.
2) Side Kicks: Great for core/hip strength, balance
Begin lying on right side, head to hips in one straight line and legs/feet extended forwards at a 45 degree angle from the hips. Make sure your shoulders and hips are stacked, abdominals are in and there should be a tiny air pocket between you right waist and the mat. Lift left leg up and slightly back so it’s in line with your shoulder and hip. Lower and lift left leg maintaining good core control. Repeat 10 times.
To incorporate more balance control, keep left leg held still in line with shoulder and hip. Now maintaining trunk stability, try to lift your bottom (right) leg up and down. Imagine you are trying to balance a cup of coffee on your right inner thigh as you lift and lower. Be sure your left leg remains still. Repeat 10 times, and then repeat on your left side.
3) Spine Stretch Forward: Great for spine mobility and hamstring flexibility
Begin seated with legs extended slightly wider than hip width. Sit on top of a bolster or rolled towel if your hips/hamstrings are tight. Inhale and sit tall on your sits bones. To locate your sits bones, it is important to sit tall with good posture and tilt your pelvis forward.
Exhale and rock your pelvis forward and begin stretching forwards one vertebrae at a time. You may let your head and neck relax but do not collapse into your shoulders and back. The goal is to reach forward with an elongated spine, not to round your back so you can touch your toes. Inhaling while holding the stretch, and exhale as you slowly roll back up through your spine one vertebrae at a time. Repeat 10 times.
4) Chest Expansion: Great for posture and balance
Begin standing with feet parallel hip width apart, arms extended forward away from your hips.
Scoop in your abdominals and inhale as you press your arms back by your side – create some resistance and pretend you are moving your arms under water. Holding the breath in, gently turn your head right and left. Exhale as you return to center and release the arms forward. You can try also slightly lifting your heels on your balance while you do the exercise. Repeat for 5 sets.
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