Best Pilates Exercises for Strengthening the Core
Pilates is a low-impact, non-aerobic, strengthening exercise that uses your own body weight for resistance to tone the muscles of your body. There’s a strong emphasis on technique in Pilates, and the seemingly simple moves require a great deal of mental focus and physical control to achieve the level of precision required to perform the exercises correctly and reap all the amazing benefits.
Benefits of Pilates for Core
The core of your body, which consists of the obliques, abdominals, and lower back muscles, is the primary focus of Pilates. Not only can Pilates be effective at flattening your abdominal area and gaining greater definition, but strengthening your core muscles can also provide health benefits:
- Improved flow of oxygen
- Improved blood circulation
- Spinal stability
- Better posture
- More efficient movement
Pilates exercises can be done by themselves or as a warm-up to an aerobic workout. It is accessible for beginners and advanced practitioners alike, and it provides a satisfyingly challenging workout that requires relatively few reps.
Top 5 Exercises for Pilates Core Workout
Pilates exercises are designed to start by strengthening the center of the body and then work outward to the extremities, engaging the whole body to improve not only strength, but also flexibility and balance. The following exercises are of particular benefit to the core, do not require special equipment to perform (although a mat is recommended), and can be modified to become more simple for beginners or more challenging for those at a more advanced level.
Correct breathing is an essential aspect of Pilates. You cannot perform the exercises correctly if you do not breathe properly. Be aware of your breath at all times.
This exercise is performed while lying on your back with your feet up in the air, your knees bent over your hips, your shins parallel to the ground, and your arms stretched out to your sides. While keeping your lower back on the floor, release both knees so that they fall towards the right side of your body. Return your legs to starting position, then allow your knees to fall to the left side. Repeat the cycle five times.
The starting position for this exercise is similar to the Pendulum: lying on the floor, knees bent over your hips, feet in the air with shins parallel to the floor. However, rather than extending your arms outward, they should be parallel with your body, resting on the ground, palms facing down.
Begin the exercise by raising your arms off the ground and curling up your chest and head up away from the floor. While inhaling for five counts, pump your arms up and down, moving six to eight inches. Then exhale for five counts while performing the same arm-pumping motion. Perform 5 sets of the inhale/exhale combination.
For a more difficult exercise, you can extend your legs and point your toes into the air to place your legs in a 45-degree angle.
One Leg Circles
While lying in the same position (face up, arms by your sides, palms touching the floor), place your legs into position. Your right leg goes up into the air, fully extended and perpendicular to the floor, while your left foot is flat on the ground with the left knee bent. While keeping your pelvis neutral and navel pulling in and up, draw a small circle in the air with the right leg, moving first across the body to the opposite shoulder, down towards the floor, slightly out to the side and pause at the top. Do 5 reps before reversing the direction. When complete, return the right foot to the floor with the right knee bent and perform the same exercise with the left leg.
Half Roll Down
While sitting upright with feet flat on the floor and knees bent, hold the back of your thighs with your hands. Draw the abdominals in and lower your forehead towards your knees. Inhale while drawing the core muscles toward your spine to lean backward, straightening the arms while keeping your hands glued to your thighs. Exhale and empty your lungs as you curl forward, forehead towards your knees maintaining a c-curve in the spine. Repeat this 5 times focusing on the breath.
Start by lying on your back. Put your hands behind your head. Bring both knees in toward your chest, and curl your head up. Don’t pull your head with your hands, and be sure your elbows remain far apart.
With your right knee bent toward your chest, move your left shoulder toward your right knee so that your left elbow comes close to touching it. As you do that, extend the left leg. Repeat the motion by extending the right leg and bringing your right shoulder and left knee together. Alternate sides and perform five reps.
To ensure that you are performing these exercises correctly with proper breathing technique, seek the tutelage of a qualified Pilates instructor.