Everyone wants to get fit, but we don’t always have the time, strength, or energy to hit the gym. And sometimes, staying or getting in shape, especially as you get older, can feel a bit like an upward battle. Yet, maintaining muscle mass, flexibility, and mobility as you age helps you sustain your independence for longer and offers you a higher quality of life.
Mat Pilates can help you improve overall strength, flexibility, and balance. When it comes down to it, mat Pilates is exactly what it sounds like — it’s essentially, Pilates, on an exercise mat.
The great thing about mat Pilates is that it can be as intense or as light as you want. You can also perform it within the comfort of your own home, and most exercises take only a couple of minutes. All you need to do is unroll your mat and get started. So, let’s talk about a few different types of mat Pilates exercises.
Core strength is the most important part of any exercise. It’s something we might take for granted — until we try to perform a movement and can’t, or we experience an injury. Core strength impacts every aspect of our lives. It helps you stand up tall and perform functional movements, such as squats and lunges.
Good core strength helps improve balance, stamina, and power, ensuring you have a strong and agile body. With that in mind, here are a few exercises to help enhance your core strength:
Deep, core breathing is a good beginner Pilates exercise. It’s very easy and offers an excellent warm-up exercise.
How do you do it?
- Roll out your Pilates mat and lie on your back. Your knees should be bent and your feet flat on the floor, with your hands resting lightly on your rib cage.
- Breathe in deeply through your nose. Remember, when breathing properly, your chest should expand and your shoulders should rise slightly. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then release slowly.
- Repeat three to five times.
The shoulder bridge works the core muscles, as well as the glutes and hamstrings. The glutes and hamstrings are essential for walking, running, jumping, and more. You can also easily move onto the shoulder bridge from your core breathing exercise.
How do you do it?
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. It’s a good idea to place a cushion or pillow or even a small ball between your feet, keeping your knees about hip-width apart.
- As you exhale, squeeze the ball/cushion and push your feet against the floor. Tilt your pelvis, gently lifting your hips off the floor until your knees and shoulders are angled in a straight line.
- Hold the position for a few seconds, then gradually lower back to the ground. Repeat this exercise five times.
Starting with your basic strengthening exercise (like core breathing and the shoulder bridge), you can move on to the following conditioning exercises next.
Leg lifts are best for strengthening the abdominal muscles and back. If you want more of a challenge, you can further modify this exercise to include leg stretches (cycling your legs as if you were riding a bicycle), or toe taps (you raise your legs alternatively and lower them down again to tap your toes on the mat).
How do you do it?
- Start in the same position for a shoulder bridge (on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, a hip-width apart). Draw your abdominal muscles in and up, and slowly raise one leg into a tabletop position (thigh straight out in front of you and your knee bent as if you were sitting on an invisible chair).
- Keeping your leg in the same position, draw your other leg up into the same position. Hold the position for a few seconds, then slowly return both of your legs to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise three to five times.
This exercise requires a slightly different position, which may be easier for some people to get into. With any exercise, you want to ensure you aren’t causing pain to occur. If pain does happen, stop and adjust your form. If the pain continues, stick to the most basic exercises until you gain the proper strength to progress or until your pain dissipates.
How do you do this exercise?
- Start by lying flat on your Pilates mat, with your legs straight out in front of you. Make sure you’re relaxed, with a neutral pelvis.
- Lift one leg into the air, as high as you can. Your leg doesn’t have to be perfectly straight. Slowly rotate your leg in a circle, without moving your hips.
- Repeat the leg circles ten times, five reps in each direction. Slowly lower your leg and repeat with the other leg.
Pilates balance exercises are a fantastic way to improve your posture and prevent falls in your everyday life. Many of these exercises are very simple, but for some, they may be surprisingly challenging. For any standing balance exercise, ensure you are located near a sturdy object, such as a table, wall, or counter, that you can grab if you lose your balance.
One Leg Standing Position
The one-leg stand position is a very basic exercise. It’s a great way to strengthen the muscles in each leg, as well as help you improve your balance. It’s further suitable for just about everyone.
How do you do it?
- Stand in a neutral position on your Pilates mat. A neutral position means that you’re relaxed but upright, in a good posture, with your weight evenly distributed.
- Move your weight onto one leg and lift the other leg, moving your thigh out in front of you. Don’t rush this movement — the focus here is on keeping your balance.
- Hold the position for a few seconds. Eventually, you want to aim for 30 seconds or a minute (if not, longer!). Slowly return your leg to the ground and reassume the neutral position. Repeat with the other leg.
Once you’re comfortable with simple balance exercises, like the one leg standing position, you can try more complex, full-body balance exercises, such as the wall star.
How do you do it?
- Stand against a wall in a neutral position. You shouldn’t be fully pressed against the wall — your buttocks, shoulders, and head should gently rest against the wall, but you should keep your feet about six inches away from the wall.
- Still leaning against the wall, start to lean sideways, as if you’re falling over. Move slowly so that you don’t lose your balance. Spread out your arms and one leg (the one you aren’t resting your weight on) to make a star shape.
- Remember, you should always be leaning against the wall, balancing your weight on one leg. Hold the position for a few seconds, then return to the original position, and repeat with your other leg.
Use Mat Pilates to Improve Your Overall Strength and Balance, Starting Today!
Pilates can be as intense or gentle as you like. It’s a great type of exercise for developing flexibility, strength, stamina, and balance. All you need is a few exercises to try — and a Pilates mat, of course! Start with the above exercises. Many of these movements are simple but effective, ideal for elderly individuals, beginners, or individuals with limited strength and stamina.
Vanessa is starting Pilates mat classes in the practice gym. Give her a call on 02 9144 1510 to book your assessment or talk to her to see if the classes are suitable for you.