Ever wondered how celebs like Liz Hurley and Gwyneth Paltrow always manage to look super svelte and slender? Pilates is the answer.
Pilates firms and tautens muscles, and boosts overall strength and flexibility. And, because it’s especially great at working those hard-to-get-to deep abdominals, it’s one of the best waist-whittlers around. Plus, it gives you the posture of a ballerina, helping you look taller and leaner – it’s no wonder UK Strictly Come Dancing judge, Darcey Bussell is such a huge fan.
As the moves in Pilates are slow and deliberate, they calm your mind and give you a well-being boost. Lynne Robinson, founder of the world-renowned Body Control Pilates system, has designed a four-week exercise plan around six simple Pilates moves, complete with a how-to guide, that’ll firm you up in just one month.
Before you start the Pilates workout
These 30-minute workouts above are designed to be done twice a week. Lynne recommends that you practise both versions of the relaxation position first, as they contain some of the movement skills you’ll need as the weeks progress. Week by week, the programme will challenge you further by incorporating additional repetitions, reducing your base of support or testing your balance and co-ordination. By the end, you should notice a difference in your flexibility, strength and overall well-being. You’ll be hooked!
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Breathe in and raise right arm over your head. Don’t hunch your shoulder. Breathe out and lengthen through the crown of your head to reach the upper corner of the room, laterally bending spine. Keep pelvis centred. Breathe in, then breathe out, lengthening through your head as you return upright. Breathe in and lower arm. Switch sides and repeat.
Boost side reach
Start in high-kneeling position – knees and feet hip-width apart – and perform basic move. Switch sides and repeat.
Go on all fours with your hands beneath your shoulders and knees beneath your hips. Breathe in and out, rolling your pelvis underneath. Your lower back will gently round. Also allow your upper back to round, followed by your neck, and finally nod your head forwards. Breathe in, then out again as you unravel your spine, sending your tail bone away from you. Bring your pelvis back to neutral and return to starting position. Control your spine, vertebra by vertebra.
Boost the cat
Start on all fours, then place your right hand in front of your left hand on the floor, so that you’re working at an oblique angle. Perform the basic move as above, then repeat the move on the other side.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees bent. Breathe in, lengthen the back of your neck and nod head forwards. Breathe out and roll your spine down. Breathe in as you begin to roll your pelvis under you. Breathe out as you roll spine back up smoothly through each segment, keeping an even balance through feet.
Boost roll downs
When you’ve finished the basic move, roll down and return upright, float both arms up, out to the side and then above you. Repeat eight times.
This is how you always begin your exercise. Lie on a mat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart and parallel – pelvis must be level and spine should retain its natural curves. Arms should rest at your sides. Breathe wide into your ribcage. Breathe out and gently engage pelvic-floor muscles, drawing up inside like an internal zip until you feel your lower abdomen hollow slightly. Breathe in and release your ‘core zip’.
Boost relaxation position
Follow the directions for the basic move, but breathe out and raise both your arms up above your head, without moving your spine. Maintain the distance between your ears and your shoulders. Breathe in to bring your arms back down to the starting position once more.
Start in the relaxation position, hands behind head. Breathe in and out, nodding your head down and curling your upper body away from the mat. Breathe in and hold the curl, then breathe out to control the curl back down. Support your head, keep your spine level and move the spine bone by bone.
Boost curl ups
Follow directions for the basic move, but once curled up, breathe in and open one knee out to the side, without moving the pelvis. Breathe out and return knee before repeating with other leg, then curl back down.
Start in the relaxation position. Breathe wide into your ribcage, then breathe out and tilt pelvis back, curling first your tail bone, then peel each vertebra off the mat until you reach your shoulders. Breathe in, then out as you return each vertebra to the floor. Keep both sides of waist elongated and ensure weight is evenly distributed between both feet for balance.
Boost spine curls
Follow directions for basic move, but place your arms above your shoulders, palms facing away, reducing your base of support.
Model: Stephanie van der Plank
Pics: Candice Askham