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Pilates: A Core Conditioning Program

If you want to work your body to the core, try Pilates (pi-LAH-teez). First developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1920s as a therapeutic regimen for soldiers, Pilates is now popular among dancers, athletes, and movie stars, among others. It helps to release tension while building muscle strength, joint flexibility, and energy.

Pilates benefits include:

  • Prevention of and relief from back pain and muscle tension

  • Increased muscle strength and joint flexibility

  • Improved mental focus and increased coordination

  • Better posture and balance

  • Firm, flat abs

Pilates basics

Pilates is a conditioning program that strengthens the muscles you use in everyday actions, such as walking, sitting, twisting, bending, and lifting.

The primary aim of Pilates is to improve your posture by strengthening the stabilizing muscles of your torso.

Because Pilates movements are slow and controlled, similar to yoga in some ways, you can easily do them at home or in a class on a mat. The deep breathing part of the program helps you to reduce stress and calms your mind and body.

Focusing on the core

Your abdominal and back muscles are often collectively referred to as your body's core. Pilates exercises strengthen this core by developing your pelvic stability and abdominal control.

Exercise sessions are designed according to your individual flexibility and strength limitations. You can do Pilates on a mat or with specialized Pilates equipment at the gym. You don't need special clothing or shoes. Most exercises -- there are hundreds to choose from -- involve bending, stretching, and using your own body weight for resistance.

Pilates breathing exercise

This exercise links deep breathing with standing in a neutral position. It activates your core muscles as you learn to control breathing, while maintaining good posture.

  • Stand with your arms relaxed at your sides; your ankles, hips and shoulders aligned; your shoulders relaxed; and your head and neck lifted upward. Relax in this position.

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, expanding your rib cage. As you take this slow, deep breath, maintain your spine position with its natural curves. Keeping your shoulders still, move only your rib cage.

  • Exhale slowly and deeply through your mouth, drawing the front of your rib cage in and down. Mobilize your abdominal muscles by pulling in your navel, and drawing it upwards toward your rib cage. Squeeze your lower abdominal muscles by pulling in your navel, drawing it upward toward the rib cage as you keep your shoulders still and relaxed. The beauty of this and other Pilates exercises is that you can do them anywhere, anytime, to relieve physical and mental stress.

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