The Ladies Home Journal website (www.lhj.com) provides animated video demonstrations for Pilates beginner, intermediate, and advanced programs. A description of the Pilates exercises from the Ladies Home Journal Beginner Program is below.
Before starting any workout, warming up is important to prepare your body for the workout and to reduce the risk of injuries such as muscle strain.
A. SWINGING WARM-UP to warm up the spine and back.
Use this exercise to warm up your spine and back muscles. Be careful not to force your body. Move in slow, controlled motion, as if you were swimming in water. Repeat this movement 20 times.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees soft, and reach your arms straight up to the sky. Remember to pull in your abs and inhale.
2. As you exhale, let your arms fall forward and allow your knees to gently bend and your back to arch into a curve. Relax your head and shoulders, allowing them too to fall forward. Note how your spine reacts, feeling each part of your spine as it slowly relaxes and curls forward. Keep your abs tight, and your movement should be a gentle stretch. Eventually your arms will be down to your sides, and gently pull them behind you as far as you're comfortable.
3. From this curled position, inhale and slowly roll yourself back up to the standing position. Each time you repeat this movement, try to stretch toward the sky a little farther, pulling your spine and entire body upward.
B. CHEST STRETCH to warm up the chest muscles.
Repeat the movement 10 times, each time trying to spread your arms even farther. Imagine that you are creating space in your joints.
1. Stand tall with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Your knees should not be locked. Stretch your arms out in front of you, with your palms facing the sky. Take a deep breath in.
2. As you release your breath, stretch your arms up and to your sides. Keep your spine long, reaching it toward the sky. You should be contracting your abs as you open your arms. Keep your back straight; do not let it arch. Keep the movement slow and smooth. Your speed should be constant.
II. BEGINNER PROGRAM (it's best to view the exercise videos provided at www.lhj.com, but below are the directions for six Pilates beginner exercises).
A. THE HUNDRED to strengthen the torso:
1. Lie with your back flat on the floor, shoulders down. Point your feet and lengthen your body, leading the stretch with the top of your head.
2. Keeping your back flat on the floor, raise both your legs and head off the floor. Be sure to keep your neck neutral and chin tucked.
3. Keeping arms extended, begin to lift and lower them about two inches from the floor, breathing in on the lift and out on the lower.
4. Do this for 5 up-and-down beats. Repeat 10 times until you have done a "hundred."
B. ROLL UP to strengthen the abdominal muscles:
1. Lie on your back with legs straight and arms stretched above your head, shoulders down.
2. Keeping your back flat on the floor, slowly lift your arms toward the ceiling as you breathe in.
3. As you breathe out, slowly roll forward, peeling your spine off the mat. Head remains straight, eyes focused forward. Stomach remains taut, not crunched.
4. Breathing in again, stretch out over your legs. Breathing out, slowly roll back down to the floor.
5. Do not pause, but as you breathe in roll up again, to begin the second repetition. Do 10 repetitions.
C. ONE-LEG CIRCLE to increase flexibility:
1. Lie on your back with arms at your sides, palms facing down. Pulling in your abs, extend the left leg toward the ceiling, and point your toe.
2. Rotate leg clockwise. Breathe in from 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock; breathe out from 6 o'clock to 12 o'clock. Now rotate in the opposite direction.
3. Return left leg to floor and begin again, this time extending the right leg.
4. Repeat 5 times on each side.
D. ONE-LEG STRETCH to strengthen abdominal muscles:
1. Lie on your back with arms at your sides, palms facing down.
2. Lift head and shoulders off the floor. Holding right knee, extend left leg out. (The distance between your raised leg and the floor will depend on your abdominal strength and the weight of your leg. If you are careful not to arch your back, you will not overextend your leg.)
3. Keeping head in alignment and elbows bent, slowly switch sides, grasping left knee and extending right leg.
Breathe in for two changes; breathe out for two changes.
4. Do 10 changes, or 5 moves per side.
E. SINGLE STRAIGHT-LEG STRETCH to strengthen the abdominal muscles:
1. Lie with your back flat on the floor. Extend legs in air, parallel, with knees bent and inner thighs connected.
2. Rest your hands firmly on your knees. As you inhale, lengthen the back of your neck.
3. Exhale and flex your upper body, extending both legs. Extend one leg away from your torso while bringing the other leg toward torso.
4. Pulse twice. Your hands should be reaching near the ankle.
5. Inhale and switch legs, keeping knees extended. Exhale and pulse twice as legs reach.
6. Repeat 5 times on each side, for a total of 10 movements.
F. SPINE STRETCH to increase spinal flexibility:
1. Sit with legs extended and apart, hands on the floor between them.
2. Flex feet and push upper body forward, rounding your back and pulling abs in and up. Breathe in as you round your back.
3. Breathe out as you roll back slowly, one vertebra at a time.
4. Repeat 10 times.
For INTERMEDIATE and ADVANCED PROGRAMS, go to www.lhj.com to view the videos and directions.