Pilates prep

3 moves for flexibility

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Yoga may get the love. But have you thought about trying Pilates? Pilates exercises stretch and strengthen the muscles in your hips, abdomen, back, legs, and chest. And they can boost your health in a number of ways, says Mona Al-Haddad, Pilates instructor at Pilates Northwest and owner of TeamMona: Every Body Fitness.

Pilates perks

Relieves stress
Pilates encourages tuning into your movements and breath. And focusing inward can help you think less about outside stressors. “You become the calm in the middle of the storm,” Al-Haddad says.

Reduces muscle pain
Pilates strengthens muscles from your mid-thighs up to your shoulder blades—along with your abdominals, all the muscles comprising your core. That increases your range of motion and reduces pain, says Al-Haddad. Bonus: It also works as a foundation for other types of exercise, like running or tennis.

Improves breathing
Pilates involves breathing deeply using your abdominal muscles, which can increase endurance and lung capacity, Al-Haddad says. That helps make everyday activities easier, from carrying groceries to climbing steps.

Grab your mat and try these simple moves!

Rolling like a ball

1. Sit at the front of your mat and hug your knees into your chest. Open the knees to shoulder width and bring heels together with toes apart. Place hands at the ankles.

2. Lift toes 2 inches off the mat and bring your chin to your chest. Inhale and slowly roll back until the tips of the shoulder blades reach the mat. On your exhale, roll back up to sitting.

Swimming

1. Lay face down with your arms long on either side of your head. Imagine holding an apple with your chin against your throat and lift your throat and sternum slightly. Keep eyes on your mat.

2. Lift the right leg and left arm from the mat while exhaling. Pull your ab muscles in toward your body to support your spine. Inhale deeply.

3. Exhale while switching your lifted limbs. Repeat on the other side. Do 5 reps per side.

Single leg circles

1. Lie flat on your back with arms at your side. Flex your left foot. Hug your right knee to your chest and lower it to the floor.

2. Lift your right leg toward the ceiling with toes pointed (press your spine evenly into the mat and relax the shoulder blades). Circle your right leg counterclockwise and back to center. Repeat 5 to 8 times, and reverse the circle for 5 to 8 reps.

3. Hug your right knee to the chest and lower it. Repeat the sequence on your left leg.