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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 16, 2006

Exercising to the core with Pilates

How do you keep fit? Visit our discussion board to share health tips, diet secrets and physical activities that help you stay in shape.
Video: Pilates for core strength

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Jill Gaspar performs the seated twist, which focuses on strengthening abdominal muscles.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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How: Sit up straight with your legs straight out and feet flexed. Bring your arms to shoulder height and place hands on top of shoulders. Twist, using your abs to rotate your spine to one side and the other, slowly and rhythmically. Exhale as you pull your stomach in to return to center.

Watch out for: If you use your neck, shoulders or arms to do the twisting, you will not be working your abs.

The goal: Ten repetitions.

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The recent explosion of popularity of Pilates may cause some readers to think that it's a new form of exercise. Not true.

Pilates is named after its founder, Joseph Pilates, who in 1912 worked as a self-defense instructor for detectives at London's Scotland Yard. A native of Germany, Pilates was interned as an enemy alien during World War I. During his internment, Pilates trained other internees in his system of exercise. He rigged springs to hospital beds, enabling bedridden patients to exercise against resistance. This is a precursor of the equipment used in Pilates studios today, known as the Cadillac and the Reformer.

Pilates' exercise method gained favor in the dance communities of Germany, and subsequently New York, to which he immigrated in 1926. George Balanchine became a devotee and invited Pilates to instruct the ballerinas of his New York City Ballet.

Pilates died in 1967, but his work was carried on by two of his students, who in turn trained others in the Pilates method of exercise.

Paula Rath

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THE HUNDRED How: Bring the right knee to table position, followed by the left knee. Sink in your abs. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and sink your navel toward your spine. Reach your arms as long as possible toward your feet. Bring your upper body up to a sit-up position. While pumping both arms, breathe rapidly five times in through the nose, followed by five quick breaths out of the mouth. Watch out for: Neck or back strain. If you feel a strain, cradle your head in one hand. Try not to tuck or arch your pelvis. Maintain a neutral spine. The goal: To reach 100 breaths.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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FLIGHT How: Start prone on your tummy, face down. Place palms facing down toward the floor and reach toward your toes. Shrug up and down to engage the lats and disengage the shoulders. Imagine a hot coal between your hip bones and lift your abs. Let the arms and legs rise rhythmically while reaching through your triceps. Lengthen the neck and spine throughout the exercise. Hold for three breaths. Watch out for: Do not arch your back or over-squeeze your glutes. The goal: Six repetitions.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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How: Place your upper foot forward and let your back foot intercept it to create a "T." Make an imaginary line with your feet, hips and hands. Feel your abs lift you up into a plank position. Feel your inner thigh muscles squeeze together while reaching to the side and over your head. Look up toward your top hand as you stretch up farther. While exhaling, be sure to come down slowly and gracefully, with control. Watch out for: If your arms are doing the work of lifting, it won't benefit your abs. The goal: Six repetitions.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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A roll of drums, please, for the onslaught of the season of excess. With Thanksgiving just a week away, we are all challenged with trying to keep our calorie consumption under control. Oh, sure we know that the best form of exercise is to push our groaning bodies away from the table before eating ourselves silly. But come on, be real. How are we supposed to say no to Auntie's mashed potatoes with gravy and Tutu's pumpkin pie?

Instead, we offer an alternative: Kick your exercise routine up a notch or two or three and focus on strengthening those abdominal muscles. Core abdominal strength can help you look and feel better throughout the holidays and all year round.

Pilates is a mind-body exercise that focuses on core strength as ... well, the core of all its exercises. It builds strength without bulk and can improve body awareness, good posture and grace. Like yoga, Pilates improves flexibility and agility. It emphasizes proper breathing, correct spinal and pelvic alignment, and smooth, rhythmic movements.

When performed properly, over time, Pilates can develop long, lean muscles, reduce stress on the joints and enhance athletic performance. Pilates helps to engage and train the transversus abdominus, those deep abdominal muscles that are so difficult to work in any other way.

We asked Lisa Ortega Robertson and Jill Gaspar to demonstrate four core exercises to strengthen abs and help flatten tummies. Robertson is the owner of On Balance studio in Kailua. She has been a Pilates instructor since 1993, and she serves as Honolulu's certification and training center for the Pilates Method. Gaspar teaches Pilates and yoga at On Balance studio.

Pilates can be performed with or without specialized equipment. In order to make these exercises accessible to everyone (and to give you no excuse not to do them), the four exercises illustrated here can be done anywhere, anytime.

Robertson selected these four exercises from among the hundreds of Pilates exercises because they work the abdominal fibers in all directions, through flexion, extension and rotation. For all Pilates exercises, it is important to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Reach Paula Rath at paularath@aol.com.

Correction: Jill Gaspar's last name was misspelled in a photo caption in a previous version of this story.