Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

Pilates focuses on the development of a strong core to improve posture, enhance quality of movement and create an overall well-balanced body. With research supporting these great benefits of Pilates and many, many more, I asked world-renowned Pilates instructor and ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor P.J. O’Clair, Merrithew Health & Fitness™ Master Instructor Trainer for STOTT PILATES® and ZEN·GA™, and Senior Master Course Instructor for TRX®, to share three of her favorite Pilates-inspired exercises for challenging the muscles that make up the midsection—also known as the “powerhouse” in Pilates.

Exercise: Rolling Like a Ball (3-part Progression)

Pilates exercise

Pilates exercise

Reps: 12 reps total

Starting Position:
Sit tall with the legs pressed together in a tabletop position. Begin reaching forward with the arms, keeping them in line with shoulders; hold 1- or 2-pound hand weights, if desired.

Inhale: Roll all the way back, keeping the legs still as you circle the arms overhead and out to the sides.
Exhale: Flex back up to your starting position, and repeat this movement four times.
Next: Repeat the same move, but this time lengthen the right leg out as you roll back, then switch and extend the left leg, repeating for a total of 4 reps.
Next: Lengthen the right leg and reach the right arm overhead when rolling back (leave the left arm and leg in place). Circle the right arm around and bend the right leg back to the starting position. Do the left side and repeat for a total of 4 reps.

“I love this version of rolling like a ball—it challenges students and they love the series. Plus, I love the progression and build of intensity, and its only 12 reps!”

Exercise: Shoulder Bridge (3-part Progression)

Pilates exercise

Pilates exercise

Reps: 24 reps on each side

Starting Position:
Lie on your back with a neural spine and knees bent with the feet hip-width distance apart on the floor. Bend the elbows and hold 1- or 2-pound hand weights in each hand, resting them on the shoulders (optional). Place your right ankle on the left knee, with the right knee pointed toward the right shoulder.

Exhale: Lift your pelvis up while maintaining a neutral spine as you open the arms into a “V” position. Open the right knee out to the side in a figure-four position, opening at the hip as you keep the right ankle on the left knee.  
Inhale: Lower back to the starting position and repeat 8 times.
Next: Exhale once again as you lift the hips and lengthen the right leg straight up over the hip, while reaching both arms up toward the ceiling.
Inhale: Lower back to the starting position, repeat 8 times, and hold a bridge position on the last rep, with the right leg extended and arms reaching up over the shoulders.
Next: Exhale as you keep the hips lifted and lower the right leg as low as possible without rotating or dropping pelvis. At the same time, open arms wide to the sides.
Inhale: Lift the right leg and arms back up and repeat 8 times.
Next: Complete the entire series on the left side (24 reps).

“In addition to the variety of this move, it’s also a great challenge to avoid rotation of the pelvis as that type of work produces a good stable, strong lumbo-pelvic region. Plus, it’s fun to work with long levers and stability at the same time.”

Exercise: Side-lying Scissors (2-part Progression)

Pilates exercise

Pilates exercise

Reps: Hold and then 8 reps 

Start Position:
Begin lying on your side, with your bottom arm straight or the elbow bent, using your hand to support the head. Stack the legs and extend them in one long line, while resting the hand of the top arm on the mat.

Exhale: Lift both legs off the mat without rotating and hold for 10-15 seconds. For an added challenge, pick up the support hand and reach the arm straight up over the shoulder. Hold for another 10-15 seconds.
Inhale: Lower back down to your starting position for a brief rest. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Next: Keep legs lifted and scissor them forward and back, rotating the top leg out when going forward and rotating it in when going back. Keep the bottom leg parallel to the floor. Repeat for 8 reps then repeat on the other side.

“I like this because it works the body in a way that helps to support the integration between the front and back of the body. Plus, the added work gets in to the deep rotators of the hip, which are also often overlooked, yet great for mobility and strength of the entire hip complex.”

For more exercise ideas, check out my video with award-winning ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor and Mindful Movement Specialist Lawrence Biscontini for more Pilates-inspired exercises that will strengthen and sculpt your entire body.

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