In this post we are going to look at some easy Pilates exercises for seniors and the elderly that you can do at home. Pilates is a form of body weight strength training that requires minimal equipment.
If you’ve ever read health magazines or attended a health club of some sort you have surely heard about Pilates. Every few years Pilates becomes a health trend that fills all the magazines and workouts, and for a good reason.
Out of all the fitness crazes, Pilates is one of the most useful ones and it’s been around for much longer than most people realize. If you are an older person and feel like you heard about Pilates decades ago for the first time, you likely recall correctly.
Most cities have health clubs that offer Pilates classes. Or even dedicated Pilates clubs with professional instructors.
With Pilates, it’s definitely wise to invest in an instructed class because while the exercises look simple, there is actually quite a bit of technique required to perform them correctly.
All that said, today we are going to show you five simple Pilates exercises you can try at home with very little experience to get a feel for Pilates.
What Is Pilates
Pilates is a physical fitness system that was developed by Joseph Pilates in the 1930s. The idea behind Pilates is that physical fitness is based on the control and mobility of your body.
Instead of typical calisthenics movements like push-ups and pull-ups, Pilates focuses on long stretches, core activation exercises and long static contractions of different muscle groups. Balance and breathing also play a big role in the system.
Pilates is essentially a bodyweight-based strength training system that can be scaled depending on your experience and strength.
It’s especially effective for developing a strong core. Many of the exercises focus on maintaining a strong middle section while holding a difficult position statically.
Correct body positions are a crucial part of Pilates and that’s what makes it hard to learn on your own. For example tilting your pelvis just slightly can change the activation of your deep abdominal and back muscles, making the exercise ineffective.
You need to have excellent proprioception or preferably have an experienced instructor to tell you if you are doing the movement incorrectly.
Main Principles Of Pilates
There are nine principles that need to be followed in the modern Pilates method.
Breathing is important in Pilates. Pilates believed that breathing was essential for healthy body functioning and made it one of the key elements of his system.
His idea was that proper oxygenation of the blood and tissues was important for health and that it was cleansing and invigorating. Full inhalation and complete exhalation during the exercises are the key elements.
Correct breathing and getting enough oxygen is very important for your health so I think Pilates was onto something. I talk more about breathing and oxygen in the articles Wim Hof For Seniors [Read Before Trying!] and How To Improve Sleep In The Elderly [Free and Effective].
Concentration means the focus you take while doing the exercises. Focusing on the exercises while performing them is more important than the exercise itself. This combined with breathing can be seen as a form of meditation. You focus on your breath and the feel of the exercise and cancel out other thoughts.
Concentrating on movement and meditation help reduce stress and they are important in many forms of exercise. Tai Chi and Yoga are good examples of this.
Control refers to the complete control of the movements are made in. Pilates originally called his method “Contrology” referring to this principle. Nothing is done dynamically, bouncing unexpectedly etc. but instead in complete control against the pull of gravity.
Centering is the idea that to be in control of your body, there needs to be a center, the focal point from which all movement is started. In Pilates, this is considered your core muscles in the abdomen, back, and hips. All exercises are started from the center and move outwards towards the limbs.
Flow refers to the economy of movement. The idea is to move eloquently and in complete control from one position to another.
6. Postural alignment
Postural alignment refers to the postural alignment. All exercises are to be performed with correct posture for proper activation of muscles and to avoid injury.
Posture is important in exercise and in everyday life. Without good posture, your muscles can’t work correctly. You can learn more about posture in the articles Good Posture Exercises For Seniors [6 Tips], Exercises To Improve Posture In Elderly and Best Posture Corrector for Seniors [Quick Guide].
Precision is essential in Pilates. The focus should be mastering a movement before moving on to new ones. It’s better to do one movement perfectly than many half-heartedly.
Relaxation is used for better mental concentration and improved muscle firing patterns.
Stamina improves when movements are performed with focus, precision, and control making the movements easier to perform over time.
Stamina is just as important as strength and endurance for performing everyday actions. In fact, it’s a combination of them both. Stamina is the ability to endure strenuous exercise.
Benefits of Pilates For Seniors
Just like calisthenics and bodyweight training, Pilates will activate your muscles and improve mobility. Pilates is likely almost as effective for improving full body strength and muscle mass as lifting weights or using gym equipment. It’s also very good for improving posture, core control, and proprioception.
Generally speaking, Pilates will likely offer the same kind of benefits as strength training for seniors. With more of an emphasis on improving core strength instead of overall body strength.
The science on the effectiveness of Pilates is inconclusive. There is some scientific evidence it can improve balance in seniors. Which is expected from the improved strength.
Since Pilates lies heavily on body weight exercises performed mainly lying on the ground or in static positions, it’s likely it won’t improve bone health as much as regular strength training. This is because the bones need to be strained by an external load or an impact to grow and adapt stronger. Any kind of strength training is beneficial so the difference might be negligible though.
For these reasons, it is wise to do some form of strength training combined with active lifestyle and balance training. If you find Pilates is something you enjoy more than regular strength training, it’s definitely a good option.
In my opinion, the most effective strength program is the one you can stick to. Your own preference of course plays a significant role in that.
To try out if Pilates is something you might enjoy, you can try the following five simple exercises.
Easy Pilates Exercises For Seniors And The Elderly
1. Ab scoop
Ab scoop is an exercise that essentially all Pilates movements are based on. It aims to activate and find your center, your core musculature. It seems simple but pay attention to the details.
Here’s an excellent breakdown and explanation of the exercise by fitilates (YouTube embed. Content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
2. The hundred
The hundred is a bit more demanding classic Pilates exercise. It’s both a core exercise as well a breathing exercise. It involves lifting your legs to a “table-top” stance while holding a perfect ab scoop.
You will then raise your arms to your side and move them in a fast rhythm while breathing steadily with full breaths. That’s a lot to focus on simultaneously, so take your time and you will master the exercise.
Here’s an excellent display of the exercise by Pilates Anytime (YouTube embed. Content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
3. One leg circle
This exercise is aimed at pelvic stabilization and mobilizing the hip joint. You perform it by raising one straight leg up while lying on your back. You then circle your leg from the hip keeping your knee perfectly straight.
This one can be a bit demanding on your hip mobility so be careful when starting out. Your first goal should be to be able to raise and hold your leg in position with your own muscles.
Here’s an excellent breakdown and explanation of the exercise by Pilates Anytime (YouTube embed. Content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
4. Half roll down
The half roll-down is a simplified version of the roll-up. The roll-up is quite demanding for beginners so the half roll-down helps you to find the deep core connection and strengthen the muscles needed for the roll-up.
The movement begins in a seated position from where you will roll down, assisting with your arms that are holding to your legs.
Here’s a good demonstration and explanation of the exercise by Howcast (YouTube embed. Content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
5. Front support
Front support, also known as the plank is a variation of a normal calisthenics plank. It’s performed with straight arms instead of elbows like a typical plank. Because of this, it’s challenging on both the core and the upper body. The front support will challenge your whole body.
Here’s an excellent example of the exercise by Howcast (YouTube embed. Content not created or owned by ElderStrength.com):
I hope you enjoyed these tips for simple Pilates exercises for seniors you can do at home. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a question in the comments section below. I will get back to you shortly.
Pilates is a good option for strength training if you don’t enjoy regular weight training for one reason or another. It won’t be as effective at building strength and muscle, but it will be good for learning to activate your muscles.
It will also build strength much better than not doing any form of resistance training, so if you enjoy Pilates do it by all means.
Just beware that many claims of it are not scientifically proven. If you have a good instructor and take your time and learn the movements, it can be very effective. But for most health club and home Pilates exercisers traditional strength training might be a safer bet.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoy reading about strength training, and health and fitness tips for seniors please subscribe to the newsletter and bookmark my site.
See you next time!
6 thoughts on “Easy Pilates Exercises For Seniors And The Elderly”
Thank you for this very informative post. I’ve heard of Pilates but never understood what it involved until reading about it here. Having suffered a stroke, I definitely feel some of these exercises will help improve my balance and strength. The videos give an excellent demonstration on the moves and I’ve bookmarked this page 🙂
Thanks for the comment Kathy! Glad you liked it. Pilates is definitely something that could help you recover from the stroke, just run the workout by your doc and physio. All the best to you!
Excellent piece, thoughtful and responsible as always.
I really appreciated the emphasis on form. Pilates is very specific regarding form and positioning and particularly breath. I personally find it a bit too restrictive in that sense, but many people enjoy the focus, discipline, and near meditative state it can place you in.
People should not hesitate to ask about an instructor’s credentials. Getting a legitimate certification in Pilates can be quite demanding and costly vs. others, so it is important to make sure you are getting the real thing.
That caution aside, with the right instructor, as you point out, pilates can be an excellent choice for seniors given it’s low-impact nature.
Thanks for the comment Jon! An experienced instructor is definitely a useful thing to have when learning Pilates and there are definitely better options for improving your fitness on your own. The low impact nature is a good point, Pilates can be done with joint issues that prevent you from doing many traditional forms of exercise.
You have given me some food for thought.
Thank you Holly.