You’ve probably read about celebs extolling the virtues of Pilates (lean legs, a supertaut tummy), or maybe even heard the hype from mat-class-obsessed friends. If you’re still skeptical, keep reading: Pilates puts your muscles—especially the smaller, stabilizing ones—under constant tension over a large range of motion to create that enviable long, lean look. What’s more, one study found that women who swapped their usual routines for two 60-minute Pilates sessions a week saw significant increases in abdominal endurance, hamstring flexibility, and upper-body muscular endurance.
All you need is a Pilates ball. The ball mimics the resistance of the machine to challenge your muscles as you move through fluid movements. Do the following sequence two or three times a week. Starting with the first move, do 8 to 10 reps of each exercise with little to no rest between exercises.
Mermaid with Ball
Sit with the ball at your left side, and bend your left leg in front of you, your right leg behind you. Place your left hand on the ball, elbow slightly bent, and extend your right arm out to your side at shoulder level (a). Brace your core and roll the ball out to the left as far as you can while reaching your right arm over your head (b). Hold for two or three seconds, then roll the ball back toward your body and return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Finish all reps, then switch sides and repeat.
Lie faceup on the floor or an exercise mat with your arms at your sides, palms down, legs straight. Lift your legs until they’re perpendicular to the floor, feet flexed (a). Keeping your shoulders relaxed and legs straight, brace your core and raise your hips, slowly reaching your legs behind your head as far as you possibly can and pointing your toes behind you (b). Slowly reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep.
Footwork on Ball
Lie faceup, arms by your sides, palms facing down. Bend your knees and place the balls of your feet on top of the ball, heels together and toes pointing slightly outward in a small V shape (a). Engage your core and contract your glutes to lift your hips an inch off the floor, then roll the ball away from you until your heels are on the ball (b). Pause, then bend your knees to roll the ball back to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Swan on Ball
Lie facedown with your legs extended shoulder-width apart behind you. Position the ball under your chest and rest your forearms on the floor, palms down, elbows close to your body (a). Bring your shoulder blades back and down, press your palms lightly on the floor, and slowly lift your head and chest as you lengthen your spine (b). Hold for two or three seconds (imagine trying to create as much space between your ears and toes as possible), then return to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Back Arm Rowing
Sit with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Extend your arms straight in front of you, palms up. Your back should be straight, your chest up (a). Brace your core, curl your tailbone under, and slowly lower your upper body to a 45-degree angle. At the same time, bend your arms to bring your elbows close to your body, closing your hands into fists and pulling them toward your shoulders at eye level (b). Pause, then reverse the motion to return to start. That’s one rep.
Mermaid with Twist
Sit on your left hip with your left leg flat on the floor, knee bent 90 degrees, and your left palm on the floor. Bend your right knee toward the ceiling and place your right foot flat on the floor in front of your left foot; rest your right arm on your right knee (a). Shift your weight onto your left arm and straighten both legs to raise your hips toward the ceiling while extending your right arm directly over your head (b). From this position, twist your torso down and to the left, reaching your right arm underneath your body (c). Reverse the movement to return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Finish all reps on that side, then switch sides and repeat.
Roll Back and Up
Sit with your legs extended straight out in front of you, feet flexed. Hold the ball in front of you at shoulder level, arms straight. Keep your chest up and back straight (a). Contract your core and glutes, then slowly roll back until your back is flat on the floor and the ball is directly overhead (b). From that position, bring your chin to your chest and slowly roll back up to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Coordination with Ball
Lie faceup with your hips and knees bent 90 degrees; hold the ball with both hands, arms straight. Bend your elbows and lower the ball toward your chest, pressing your hands firmly against the ball (a). Brace your abs, extend your arms in front of you, curl your shoulders off the floor, and straighten your legs (b). Hold for one or two seconds, then reverse to return to start. That’s one rep.
Source: ACTIVE magazine, Women’s Health Article