Shape Up for Summer – Legs

summer-legsWe had a glimpse of warm summer weather just ten days ago, and shorts, shorter skirts, and even bathing suits suddenly popped out of storage and onto people’s unsuspecting bodies.  Were your legs ready???  Here are some tried and true classical Pilates exercises, as well as a few new Pilates exercise variations to get your legs ready to meet summer head on.

Let’s start with the outer thighs.  For this area, we LOVE the Side Leg Lift Series.  It’s simple and easy, but oh so effective!!  For maximum results, keep your knee cap pointing straight forward so that you are targeting the outer thighs and not the front of the leg.  We feature this amazing leg series in many of our mat workouts, and even in our Bosu workouts too!  For some variety, try doing the series with an Exercise Band, as we demonstrate in our Stretch and Strengthen Workout

Next, let’s move to the inner thighs.  These little suckers are hard to tone, but they do respond VERY well to exercise, when we remember to use them.  One big hint for the inner thighs……  KEEP THEM ENGAGED IN ALMOST ALL YOUR PILATES EXERCISES!!  Truly, if you do Hundreds, Roll Up, Rolling Like a Ball, Side Leg Lift Series, Breast Stroke, etc. etc., concentrating on keeping your inner thighs engaged throughout, you will hardly feel the need to do a separate exercise just for them.  As we are all built differently, it is often helpful to think of squeezing a ping pong ball between the upper inner thighs rather than squeezing the knees or ankles together, as this may often take the femurs (thigh bones) out of optimal alignment.  If you love Pilates equipment like we do, try incorporating a small ball or a Pilates Ring into your workout to experience firsthand the wonders they can do for your adductors.  We recommend our Small Ball Workout, and our Sculpt and Shape Workout!!

And last, but certainly not least, we have the tops of the backs of the thighs, undoubtedly the hardest part to tone.  Exercises to tone the upper hamstrings will inevitably involve the gluteus maximus as well, so performing these exercises regularly will help your butt defy gravity too!  From our arsenal of classical Pilates exercises, we have Swan Dive, Swimming, One Leg Kick and Double Leg Kick to name a few.  For maximum effectiveness, make sure that you keep your knees straight when they are supposed to be straight!  It may help to imagine your leg growing longer as you lift the leg.  Additionally, for this hard to target area, incorporating an exercise band into your routine can reap rewards tenfold!!  The exercise band can provide extra resistance and create increased awareness to that stubborn little area.  Two suggestions:  Try our Strong, Svelte & Savvy Sculpt Lean, Lithe Legs Workout or our Strong, Svelte & Savvy Legs and Butt with Band Workout and you will see for yourself.

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May 6, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. Leave a comment.

Shape Up for Summer! Awesome Abs & an Incomparable Core

flat-abs-fastWhether or not you plan on baring your midriff this summer, you can never go wrong with exercises to flatten your abs and strengthen your core.  But don’t just start doing crunches!  The secret to flat abs lies in the proper activation of all the abdominal muscles, not just the vanity muscles on the surface.  Here are some tips to get you flat abs fast, just in time for summer!

We all know “six pack abs” look like, but this refers to just one muscle, the rectus abdominis.  Underneath the rectus abdominis, there are three more distinct layers of abdominal muscles that can be targeted to create amazing abs and a super strong core.  Thus, the best bet for an ab-flattening, waist tightening, core energizing workout is to target all of these muscles with a variety of exercises that move the body in different planes of motion and recruit the fibers of the upper and lower abdominal muscles!

Let’s start from the inner muscles and move to the outer muscles:

Transversus Abdominis (also written as transverse abdominis or “TA”):  This is the muscle that, when targeted effectively, will give you super flat abs, and also create support for your lower back.  While ideally one should keep their transversus abdominis engaged throughout their Pilates repertoire, this can be difficult at first!

If you have a hard time remembering to keep your TA engaged during your Pilates workouts, there are a couple of simple exercises that you can do to tap into this very important muscle. We also suggest our Pelvic Placement technique video for a thorough explanation of how to support the pelvis and engage the TA. To view this video, click here.

1)  Supine (lying on your back):  Make sure that your pelvis and spine are neutral, with your knees bent, feet a comfortable distance away from your hips.  Place your fingertips just inside your hip bones.  Draw up the muscles of the pelvic floor as you draw in the abs, careful not to over-engage the abs or change the shape of the spine (both of which will recruit the internal obliques as well as the TA.)

2)  Prone (face down) on All Fours:  With hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips, ensure that your pelvis and spine are neutral.  Inhale to prepare, then exhale and draw your navel to the front wall of your spine away from the floor, without changing your spinal shape.  Hold for 2-3 breaths, then relax and repeat.

3)  Side Lying:  Lie on your side with your head resting on your outstretched arm, aiming to bring your body into one long line from your ankles to the top of your head.  Place your top hand on your top leg.  Without changing your position at all, flatten your abs, and, if possible, lift your legs a little bit off the floor.  (This will engage your glutes too, of course!)

Because the Transversus Abdominis compresses the abdominal contents when it contracts and is not a muscle with a directional pull, your spine will not and should not change shape, even when you fully engage it.

Internal & External Obliques:  These muscles work in tandem, so for practical Pilates purposes, we will not separate them.  The obliques flex the spine (bend us forward), laterally flex the spine (bend us sideways), rotate the spine (twist right or left).  Thus, to sufficiently target the obliques, exercises need to incorporate all of the above spinal motions.  Here are some suggestions for effectively zapping the obliques!

Flexion:  Half Roll Down, Hundreds, Roll Over Hip Lift

Side Bending:  Side Leg Lift Series 3, Side Plank, Side Bends

Rotation:  Spine Twist, Obliques Roll Back, Saw

Rectus Abdominis:  This muscle is our “six pack” muscle…. and also the strongest flexor of the trunk.  We Pilates folk like to encourage proper recruitment of the obliques as well as the Rectus Abdominis, but we cannot deny that at the end of the day, the Rectus is still our strongest flexor!

Exercises to target the rectus abdominis:  Roll Up, Rolling Like a Ball, Roll Over and for a challenge, Jack Knife, Corkscrew and all the Teasers.

For a detailed description of any of the exercises listed above, visit www.pilatesonfifth.com/video and find the applicable podcast!

All original Pilates, classical Pilates and contemporary Pilates workouts target the abdominal muscles, but it is up to you – especially if you attend a large class or do videos – to make sure you are keeping your belly button pinned to your spine to the best of your ability.  For two short workouts that target all these abdominal muscles (and more!) and really pack a punch, try Flat Abs in Fifteen or Arms & Core workout in the Strong, Svelte & Savvy Series on UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com!

April 29, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Pilates on Fifth Postings, Pilates Posts, The Pilates Center of New York Postings, UltimatePilatesWorkouts.com Postings. 1 comment.