10 Mat Pilates Exercises to Build Serious Core Strength
In our brave new world of working from home, shopping from home, and overall reduced physical activity, the need for maintaining good physical fitness is more paramount than ever. Thankfully, simple practices like core Pilates exercises can help us...
In our brave new world of working from home, shopping from home, and overall reduced physical activity, the need for maintaining good physical fitness is more paramount than ever. Thankfully, simple practices like core Pilates exercises can help us maintain healthy fitness levels.
According to statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services, less than 5% of Americans get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
While getting out of the house for a walk or bike ride may help, a vital component of any exercise routine is muscle strengthening. And Mat Pilates is an excellent way to begin safe and effective core conditioning.
The Science Behind Pilates
A randomized control trial study published in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation found that participants in a Pilates treatment group had improvements in general health, back pain, and other musculoskeletal functioning.
Moreover, a case study involving an 84-year-old female recovering form a hip fracture showed increased strength and range of motion after undergoing a Pilates-based rehabilitation program specifically designed for her.
Regardless of your age and fitness goals, Pilates is a great way to improve your core strength and overall physical health. As an added bonus, you don’t need any equipment to get started with these core Pilates exercises!
Use These 10 Core Pilates Exercises to Improve Core Strength and Overall Physical Health:
Below are 10 core Pilates exercises to help you find your way to better overall health.
1. Spine Stretch Forward
This movement helps to strengthen the back extensors which are long, rope-like muscles that run along the spine. They help you stand up straight, help you keep your chest up and shoulders open, and keep your neck upright to support your head.
Strengthening these muscles can help with back pain from poor posture (or sitting at a desk for long periods of time).
Let’s try it:Start seated tall with your sitting bones pressing evenly into the ground Lift your rib cage out of your hips and stretch your legs straight out in front of you as wide as your mat with your ankles flexed Reach your fingertips forward toward your toes Scoop your belly in and up and round your spine forward Restack your back bone by bone and lift your chest and head back up
2. Spinal Twist
This core Pilates exercise incorporates a twist to work your oblique muscles.
Let’s try it:Start seated tall with your sitting bones pressing evenly into the ground Lift your rib cage out of your hips and stretch your legs straight out in front of you as wide as your mat with your ankles flexed Extend your arms out wide like a T to the sides of your mat With a powerful exhale, keep your shoulders steady as you twist from your waist while keeping your hips and legs grounded Inhale as you return to center and pause Repeat on the other side
3. The Saw
Essentially combining the Spinal Twist with the Spine Stretch Forward, this core Pilates exercise strengthens your back and core muscles.
Let’s try it:Start seated tall with your sitting bones pressing evenly into the ground Lift your rib cage out of your hips and stretch your legs straight out in front of you as wide as your mat with your ankles flexed Extend your arms out wide like a T to the sides of your mat Exhale to twist your torso toward the right, tightening through your internal corset (think opposite rib to opposite hip) Then, reach your left hand past the outside of your right foot Inhale as you recoil to return to center Repeat on the other side
4. Double Leg Stretch
This exercise works to strengthen your lower abdominal muscles.
Let’s try it:Lay on your back, imprinting your spine into the ground by tucking your tailbone Pull your chin to your collar bones and draw your knees toward your chest Place both hands on your shins and scoop your abs in toward your spine and up toward your rib cage As you exhale, pull your face to your knees, becoming a tight ball As you inhale, extend your arms and legs in opposite directions while maintaining a solid core and imprinted spine (completely on the mat) Repeat nice and slow, taking a few extra seconds in the ball and extended positions to maintain stability
5. Single Leg Stretch
Similar to the Double Leg Stretch, this core Pilates exercise also strengthens your lower abdominals.
Let’s try it:Lay on your back, imprinting your spine into the ground by tucking your tailbone Extend your right leg out and hug your left leg into your chest and place your left hand on your lower shin and your right hand on your left knee Powerfully exhale as you pull your knee in toward you Keep your chin tucked to your collar bones to minimize neck strain Maintaining the rock-like core, switch legs and repeat four to eight times on both sides
6. Single Leg Pull
This core Pilates exercise offers a further emphasis of lifting in your thoracic spine in a static crunch.
Let’s try it:Lay on your back, imprinting your spine into the ground by tucking your tailbone Pull your chin to your collar bones and draw your knees toward your chest Place both hands on your shins and scoop your abs in toward your spine and up toward your rib cage Extend your right leg out to hover above your mat and point your toes Extend your left leg to the sky and reach your hands to hold your calf or ankle Powerfully exhale as you pull your shin to your face and pause to maintain a stable core Inhale as you release your leg and switch sides Repeat four to eight times on each side
7. Plank to Pike Twist
This twisting Pilates-version of Down Dog strengthens your back as well as the side of your core.
Let’s try it:Start in Plank with your fingers spread and pressing evenly into the ground As you exhale, press powerfully into the ground and push your body back into Down Dog with you hips high and your back straight Shift your weight into your right hand and lift your left hand Reach your left hand to your right ankle as you twist through your core (reach opposite rib to opposite hip) As you inhale, untwist and shift back to Plank, re-centering on both hands Repeat four to eight times on each side
8. Plank Arm and Leg Lifts and Balances
This challenging balance utilizes your entire core to stabilize your body.
Let’s try it:Start in Plank with your feet slightly parted Maintain evenness in your shoulders and lift your right arm up Repeat on the other side and hold for as long as you can while maintaining a strong core and a neutral spine
Return back to Plank with both arms securely on the floor Maintain evenness in your hips and take your right foot off the ground and bring your leg up Repeat on the other side and hold for as long as you can while maintaining a strong core and a neutral spine
After several repetitions alternating arms and legs, you can progress to lifting the opposite leg and arm simultaneously
While forward spinal flexion like crunches and leg pulls work the front or anterior portion of the core by contracting the abdominal muscles, this movement extends the spinal joints by contracting the long extensor muscles that run along the spine.
These are incredibly important for posture and alignment as strong back muscles help protect the spine and promote better body mechanics when sitting, walking, and other activities of daily living.
Let’s try it:Start lying face down on your mat with your arms reaching forward Pull your abs in and up toward your rib cage Start by lifting and reaching your right arm up and away, stretching out through your fingers while your shoulder stays plugged into its socket Repeat on the other side Keep your gaze down and your head in line with your neck, and begin to lift your upper body off the floor and alternate lifting and lowering your arms Add opposite leg to opposite arm when you’re ready Flex through your quad muscles and keep both legs active and strong Repeat about 10 times
10. Side Leg Kicks
While having a strong core is extremely important, we cannot forget the hips! These exercises go beyond the muscles supporting your spine and facilitate more control of the ball and socket joints.
Many muscles intersect between the spine and the hip joints so keeping them strong helps to support a smoother walking gait as well as firmer gluteal muscles.
Let’s try it:Start on your side supported by your right forearm or lifted on your right palm and kick your left leg out in front of you at about 30 degrees for balance Lift your chest and keep your core engaged Raise your right foot until it is even with your right hip Keeping your hips stacked and immobile, circle your right leg clockwise and then counterclockwise Return to your hip stacked position and kick your right leg forward and back Return to your hip stacked position and lift and lower your right leg without rolling onto your buttocks Return to your hip stacked position and take small half circles with your right leg Return to your hip stacked position and take mini side crunches, drawing your right leg toward your right hip Repeat on the opposite side
Core Pilates Exercises Can Help You Build Strength and Mobility
Not only will these Pilates exercises for a strong core improve your existing workouts; they will also help build strength and mobility, help prevent future injury, and keep you fit from home.
Besides, who doesn’t love the confidence and sense of empowerment that comes with a stronger core and straighter spine?