I'm new to Pilates and really struggle throughout the class. What are some core-strengthening Pilates exercises that are good for beginners?
Lie on your back with your legs at a 90-degree angle (knees in line with hips). Curl your head and shoulders off the floor, keeping your arms straight and off the floor along the sides of your body. Pump your arms at your sides, keeping your shoulders down and away from your ears, and your core engaged (I like to think of knitting the ribs together). Work your way up to a count of 100. Focus on inhaling through your nose and exhaling through the mouth as you do this. For an even greater challenge, extend your legs out on an angle.
The Roll Up
Lie down on your back with your body in one long line. Inhale and reach your arms to the ceiling. Exhale and slowly peel your body off the floor (one vertebrae at a time), beginning with your head and shoulders, until you are able to sit all the way up, bringing your head towards your knees and reaching your arms out in front of you. If you get stuck, bend your knees on the way up. Reverse the flow of your movement on the way back down, tucking your tailbone under and inhaling to roll back down to your back. Stay slow and controlled throughout. This exercise is not only great for working your core, but also helps to realign your spine.
Lie down on your chest with your arms and legs extended straight out (your palms should be facing down). Keeping your core engaged, lift all your limbs off the floor. As if you were paddling through water, quickly flutter-kick both your arms and legs as you inhale and exhale. Work for a count of six to eight. Relax and try again. Swimming will help strengthen your core by working your lower back.
Sara Haley (SaraFitness.com) is a Fitness DVD Personality, Master Trainer and Creative Consultant for Reebok.