Beach Body Pilates

Hit the mat instead of the gym: These 6 do-anywhere Pilates moves tone your abs, hips, arms, butt, and thighs.

Beach Body Pilates
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Want to feel fantastic in your bathing suit? Then now is the time to tap into the transformative power of Pilates. Developed for dancers, this total-body strengthening and stretching system creates long, lean lines and a strong center by combining technique, alignment, and breath to fire up your abdominal muscles while youre targeting other areas of your body.

If you want fast results, look no further. Pilates moves feel good, and they deliver a quick return, says Michelle Dozois, co-owner of Breakthru Fitness Personal Training and Pilates Studio in Pasadena, Calif., who designed this at-home workout for Natural Health readers. Follow the principles of precision and control along with breathing and mental focus, and youll see your muscles become strong, firm, and toned in no time.

The trick is to concentrate on doing every rep as if its the only one youll ever do. Each movement is designed to simultaneously lengthen and strengthen the working muscles while challenging the abs and spinal muscles as you strive to maintain balance. Youll get a workout for your mind and your muscles, along with a body that, come summer, you wont want to cover up.

The Strategy
Do these exercises in the order listed 4 times a week. Along with each exercise, youll find a beginning variation on the move and one thats more advanced. If youre new to Pilates, start with the easier variation. Try moving on to the more challenging one after youve done the standard program for at least 2 weeks.

Warm-Up Begin your workout with 2 Standing Rolldowns: Inhale, tuck your chin to your chest, and begin to roll down, curling your spine and drawing your head downward; at the bottom of the movement, exhale, bend your knees slightly, then reverse the motion until youre standing upright.

Cool-Down Kneel on the ground in Childs Pose: Sit back on your heels, resting your forehead on the ground, arms stretched out in front of you for a few minutes. Roll up to sitting and interlace your fingers behind your back to stretch the front of your body.

Inhale, Exhale, Repeat
Breathing may be the most natural function in the world, but for some reason, its easy to forget to breathe when youre exercising. Dont forget it here, though. Pilates requires that you connect each movement to an inhalation and/or exhalation. Instructor Michelle Dozois offers the following tips for using your breath to get the most out of your workout.

Inhale though your nose, and exhale through your mouth with a ssshhh sound. Called forced expiration, this helps activate the deep abdominal muscles to stabilize the torso.

Use your breath to actively contract your abdominal muscles throughout each exercise; focus on using your abs to control your alignment.

As you inhale, think about breathing into the back of your rib cage; as you exhale, think about drawing your navel down and in toward your spine, which helps you contract your abs without squeezing them.

Breathe deeply from your diaphragm rather than taking shallow breaths from your chest.