There is a mat exercise developed by Joseph Pilates that I ABSolutely love called The Hundred. The ‘core’ foundation is the breath and the purpose is to warm up the abdominals and lungs. Traditionally it is done at the beginning of a class, hence the ‘warm up’ aspect but not always. It’s a comprehensive full body exercises you can do at home to help tone the whole body. It can be done without equipment, modified to make it easier or more challenging and it engages virtually all the major muscles of the body when done correctly. If you do it every day for 100 days, you won’t be sorry!
1. Lie on your back with the legs in a tabletop (knees bent at a 90 degree angle and lifted with shins parallel to the floor and arms by your side on the floor, palms face down). Make sure that there is a small space under the low back with the tailbone and mid-back pressing into the floor (neutral pelvis).
2. Inhale through the nose and as you exhale come in to an abdominal scoop (or crunch) to the tips of the shoulder blades. Arms hover 5-10 inches off the floor.
3. Inhale deeply through the nose, expand your ribcage towards the floor and pull the navel towards your spine (belly down not popping up). Start pumping the arms for a count of five; then exhale through the mouth for a count of five as you continue pumping the arms, pulling the abdominals down further. The arm pumps should be small, narrow to the body and arms should not hit the floor or rise above the line of the hips.
4. Repeat for a total of five inhales and five exhales or a total of 100 breaths.
Things to watch:
-Keep shoulders down and together while reaching arms forward.
-Keep the back of your neck aligned with your spine. Imagine holding a ripe tomato between your chin and chest.
-Pump the arms rapidly, but purposefully. As if you were pressing down through water. Engage the muscles underneath your armpits-otherwise known as your Lats.
-Breathe fully. Take full inhales and exhales. Be careful not to hold your breath.
-Keep leg muscles active by drawing the inner thighs together.
Spice it up:
You can always add challenges with Pilates. Try extending your legs out and holding them at a 45 degree angle or lower. Lower increases the difficulty. Remember that if you start to feel your lower back being pulled into a larger arch, raise the legs higher.
Cool it down:
Pilates is also perfect for those with injuries as most exercises can be modified to accommodate your particular issue. If you have existing lower back problems, you can always perform the hundred with the feet on the floor and knees bent. If you have issues with the neck, you can prop yourself up on an angle with the use of firm pillows to create the ‘chest lift’ but support the neck. If you are pregnant you can perform the exercise by sitting on a chair and slightly leaning the torso back or modify in the same way as those with neck issues (depending where you are in your pregnancy).
Have fun and enjoy!
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