Are You Ready for Pilates?

A few years back, I had major surgery that involved cutting through the abdominal wall. As a result, I lost all my abdominal muscles. Once I had recovered from the surgery, my doctor suggested Pilates as an ideal way to rebuild the lost muscle tone. Because I was starting from nothing, he gave me the following exercises to get me started, until I had enough muscle tone to take a regular Pilates class.

I shared the exercises with my mother, who has done nothing more vigorous than walking or climbing stairs for years. She was also too weak to start right into Pilates.

By the time you are able to accomplish this simple exercise, you will have strengthened your core muscles (your abdominals, buttocks, and lower back muscles) to the point where you can begin the easiest Pilates mat routines. As always before starting any exercise, be sure to check with your doctor first.

To start, lay down on a mat or a carpeted floor, with your back flush against the floor, your legs together, knees bent at a ninety-degree angle, and feet flat on the floor, and your arms straight at your sides, palm down by your hips. You should be looking up at the ceiling.

Feel the weight of your body, relaxing against the mat. Adjust your position so that you do not feel any discomfort. Take a deep breath, expanding out to the sides instead of letting your stomach rise, and when you let it out, feel your abdomen sinking down toward your spine. Take two more deep breaths, making sure your stomach does not rise.

Inhale once again, and this time, tighten your core muscles of abdomen, buttocks, and lower back. Lift your head and shoulders off the mat, until you are looking between your knees. Keep your back on the mat.

Reach your hands up, keeping your arms long and elbows in, and grab the outside of your thighs. Keeping your shoulder blades low and relaxed (don't hunch!), exhale and use your core muscles and arms to pull yourself up, gradually unrolling your spine off of the mat, until you are sitting upright. Let go of your legs and extend your arms straight out in front of you. Your feet should remain on the floor, your legs together and knees bent at a ninety-degree angle, the entire time.

Inhale deeply, then on the exhale, roll yourself back down onto the mat, finally lowering your head and shoulders, and returning your arms to the floor beside you.

When you can do this exercise easily, stop using your arms to help pull you up. Lift them up, keeping them parallel to the floor, and use only your core muscles to lift and lower yourself.

Jennifer Dunne

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