Pilates Exercises for Seniors

November 19, 2021

Pilates can be incredibly beneficial for so many people, particularly seniors. Below we discuss how regular Pilates practice can help seniors with everyday tasks. We also provide Pilates exercises for seniors to do at home to get the full benefits this wonderful exercise regime can bring!

Whilst these at home Pilates exercises were provided with seniors in mind, they can be done by anyone and everyone.

First, a little background on Pilates.

Pilates was founded by a man named Joseph Pilates who suffered from Asthma, Rickets and Rheumatic fever. Joseph created a set of simple, yet efficient exercises that ultimately cured these horrible illnesses.He then expanded his repertoire to help with others with all kinds of ailments, whether that be rehab exercises for injuries or chronic pathologies.

Pilates is a little to no impact form of exercise which can be assisted by equipment or performed on a mat. Pilates target breathe, full body mobility and flexibility, alignment and posture - just to name a few.Thus, being a fantastic and easy way for seniors to keep up their fitness in away that is gentle and is functional for everyday activities to reduce injuries.

As Pilates involves virtually no impact, it’s ideal for joint and bone health, especially for an aging body. Pilates can also be easily modified for any injuries or health concerns.

 

So, let’s talk about some specific exercises that can assist with some everyday tasks. These exercises combine mobility, alignment, strength and core/pelvic stability. Lets start these Pilates exercises and make your everyday tasks easier for you!

*Please note you must have medical clearance from your health professional before trying these exercises.

Exercises to assist with walking upstairs:

Tabletop Top

This is a core exercise that will help with hip disassociation (torso maintaining upright while the limbs move in space), leg alignment and pelvic stability. All these facets are required when lifting the leg to take a step up safely and with correct leg alignment.

Exercise: Lying supine with the feet on the floor, legs squeezed together and the spine imprinted (spine drawing down towards the floor). Inhale to lift one leg into tabletop (90 degree bend in the knee), exhale to lift the second leg to meet the first. Inhale to lower the first leg back down, exhale to lower the second leg. Keep this breath pattern as you alternate which leg lifts first.

Perform 6-8 repetitions total, building up to 12-14.

Tip: Maintain the lower back and back of the ribs drawing down towards the mat.

Hip Rolls

Bridging is a great exercise that targets hip extensor strength (glutes and hamstrings) in order to press down while walking up stairs. Bridging also assists with pelvic stability while the legs move independently of each other.  

Exercise: Lying supine, knees bent with feet on the floor. Take an inhale to prepare, exhale as you rollback through the pelvis, slowly peeling your spine off the mat. Stop once you are resting on the shoulder blades. Inhale there, exhale as you slowly melt the spine back down to the starting position.

Perform 6 repetitions, building up to 12.

Tip: Keep the ribcage close towards the spine and think of length through the spine throughout the movement.

Exercise to help reach the top cupboards:

Arm arcs

Arms arcs are a simple yet very effective exercise to help with shoulder mobility. When reaching to a top cupboard, often the neck muscles can take over which hinders the range of movement in the shoulder. This exercise will train your neck muscles to stay quite while the shoulder moves independently.

Exercise: Lying supine with knees bent, feet on the floor and arms reaching up to the ceiling. Inhale to prepare, exhale as you send one arm toward your feet and the other overhead toward your ear. Inhale to bring the arms back to the starting position. Keep alternating arms.

Perform 5 repetitions each arm, working your way up to 10 each arm.

Tip: Keep the ribcage heavy into the floor as the arm travels overhead. Also keep as much space between ears and shoulders through out the movement.

Exercises to make getting out bed easier:

Chest lift

Chest lift is great for thoracic mobility, which in most people is limited. It also strengthens the abdominals needed to sit up in bed without doming.

Exercise: Lying supine with knees bent, feet on the floor and hands interlaced behind the head. Inhale to prepare, exhale as you start to peel the upper back off the mat, sliding the ribs down towards the hips. Inhale as you return to the starting position.

Perform 6 repetitions, working your way slowly up to 12.

Tips: Draw the navel towards the spine as you peel the upper back off the floor. Stop the movement once the shoulder blades hover off the ground. Head stays heavy in the hands at all times.

Rollup

The rollup exercise is to be practiced once the chest lift is mastered. This exercise focuses on full spinal mobility as well as core control.

Exercise: Lying supine with legs outstretched and arms reaching to the ceiling. Inhale to prepare, exhale as you pass through the chest lift position and continue rolling up through the spine maintaining the C curve in the spine. Once the shoulders are over the hips, start restacking the spine from the pelvis up to the crown of the head. Inhale once the spine is upright, exhale start to roll back off the pelvis and continue to melt the spine down all the way back to the starting position.

Perform 3 repetitions, working your way slowly up to 6-8.

Tip: Keep the shoulders relaxed and focus on peeling the spine off the floor vertebrae by vertebrae. Keep drawing navel to spine throughout the movement.

Exercise to aid in picking up grandchildren (the most important task!)

Quadruped

Quadruped is fantastic for so many reasons. It is an upper body weight bearing exercise which will strengthen wrists, arms and shoulders for holding young children. Another focus is on glute and hamstring mobility and strength in a lengthened position. This is important as some people aren’t able to fully squat down to pick up a child, so teaching the body how to eccentrically strengthen the glutes and hamstrings is very important and will help reduce risk of injuries to the lower back, hips and knees.

Exercise: On hands and knees.Hands are directly under the shoulders and knees are under the hips. Spine is in a neutral position. Inhale to prepare, exhale as you lengthen opposite arm to leg to a hover position (or in line with the spine). Inhale to draw the arm and leg back to the starting position.

Tip: Keep pushing the ground away with your hands to keep the shoulders and back engaged. Think about balancing a cup of tea or coffee on the pelvis as the arms and legs travel away. Try not to shift the body weight from side to side.

Get Moving with these exercises!

All the above Pilates exercises for seniors can be completed in just 10-15 mins. We suggest starting with the lowest repetitions we have written and building up only when you feel stronger and can maintain your form. These exercises can be practiced anywhere - all that is needed is a mat. Your body will thank you after a few weeks of practising these Pilates exercises for seniors!

Like anything, consistency is key! Try to practice these exercises at least three times a week to see improvements in both mobility and strength. Attending group mat classes can also help with locking in these exercises weekly. Every Mat class will include these exercises (or ones that are very similar) as they are the staples that Joseph Pilates swore by.

Read Why all Seniors should be Practicing Pilates and Why Pilates is good for Lower Back Pain.

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