You’ve heard about the benefits of having a strong core to protect your back while you work. But what exercises are you supposed to be doing? The Pilates repertoire, consisting of hundreds of exercises, focuses on strengthening the muscles of the abdomen, back, pelvic floor, and buttocks while lengthening and toning your entire body. Best of all, you don’t have to do endless crutches to achieve results!

When doing Pilates, the quality of the movement is more important than the number of repetitions you perform; it’s more beneficial for you to complete six reps with perfect form than 25 messy ones. Your technique is the foundation for seeing and feeling results.

Additionally, Pilates can be customized to meet your particular fitness level, so it’s ideal for people who are athletes, people who are new to exercise, and everyone in between. If you’re looking for a low-impact way to strengthen your core, grab a mat and check out the following exercises.

plank pose1. Plank Pose

Begin on your hands and knees. Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists, while your head maintains a neutral position (you can achieve this by shifting your gaze to the floor about one foot in front of you).

Next, straighten one leg behind you so your toes are on the ground and your thigh is lifted off of the mat. Then, walk the other leg out behind you the same way. Now, you’re in a plank position. Try to hold this pose for five to eight breaths. Slowly, bring your knees back to the mat and rest.

If you find this pose easy, concentrate on details like drawing your abdominals inward, aligning your head with your spine, and bringing your feet shoulder-width apart.

If this pose is challenging for you, you can modify it by dropping down to your knees. Even if you are on your knees, try to draw your abdominals towards your spine, keep your shoulders over your wrists, and keep your head in proper alignment. If possible, hold for five to eight breaths. With practice, you’ll gain the strength to do the full pose.

rolling like a ball

2. Rolling Like a Ball

Sit on your mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your arms on the underside of your thighs or around your knees and draw your abdominals towards your spine. Fix your eyes on your scooped belly, but don’t crunch your neck—Imagine lengthening your neck as you bend it. Inhale as you rock back to your shoulder blades, and exhale as you rock up to a seated position. Repeat this motion six times.

If this exercise is simple for you, fix your eyes on your belly throughout the whole movement. When you rock back up to the seated position, use your abdominals to control the motion and don’t let your toes touch the mat.

If this exercise is too difficult, you can lie on your back and practice rocking in a smaller range of motion. When you get stronger, you can increase the difficulty by drawing your abdominals towards your spine and focusing on your belly. Soon, you’ll be ready to try the full exercise.

cobra pose3. Cobra Pose

Lie on your stomach with your arms bent at 90-degree angles by your shoulders, your legs hip-width apart, and your forehead resting on the mat. The tops of your toes should rest on the mat as well.

Next, scoop your abdominals towards your spine to support your low back, and slide your shoulder blades away from your ears. Inhale to initiate the movement of your head like you’re rolling a marble out with your nose. When your head is in line with your spine, engage your back muscles and lift your chest and palms off the floor as well. Exhale as you lower back down to the mat. Repeat six times.

If you’re familiar with this pose, make sure your shoulder blades aren’t creeping up towards your ears and continue to scoop your stomach towards the spine. Although this movement is small, it’s powerful if you activate the appropriate muscles.

If this pose is hard for you, keep your palms on the mat and use them to assist you as you lift up your chest. When you’re ready, you can add in the rest of the elements of this exercise.

Pilates is an effective way to build functional, core strength. If you’re struggling with any aspect of this practice, consider attending a group class or taking a few sessions with a certified Pilates instructor to improve your form and body awareness.

Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio

Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a Chicago-based, freelance lifestyle writer, licensed occupational therapist, and certified Pilates instructor. Her expertise is in health, wellness, fitness, and chronic illness management.

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