Beginner Pilates for Seniors

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Defying Age With Versatility

You are never too old to begin your Pilates practice. If you are 60 or older and are active, you are ready to start. If you have any pre-existing conditions or have not been active for a while, consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise. It's never too late to learn to use your body in a smarter, more efficient fashion with Pilates. And the loss of flexibility that we associate with aging can be reversed. Take your time. Pilates requires focus, attention, deliberate movement, slowing down, and staying aware of your body. There is always a way to modify and exercise. Err on the side of caution, not because you "can't" do something, but because you want to do it well. You will feel the positive impact of Pilates by merely practicing it regularly.

Benefits of Pilates for Seniors

Pilates is wonderful for every body of every age. Seniors, in particular, can really benefit from a Pilates practice. Balance, strength, flexibility, focus, and your breath are all areas you may notice have changed with age. Pilates at its core works on improving all of those things. It is gentle enough to be right for you at any age, and every exercise can be modified on any given day to meet you where your body is that day.

Some Advice for Seniors

Doing beginner Pilates at least twice a week is enough to notice a difference in your strength, flexibility, and balance. If you feel great and love your Pilates practice from the start, feel free to add a third day into your weekly routine. Listening to our bodies is sometimes something we have to relearn as we grow up. Remember that our bodies show up for us differently each day. This is true of children, teenagers, young adults, a forty-year-old, and even you. Allow Pilates to do its job for your body by meeting it wherever it is on any given day.

Pilates for Older Women

Watch Pilates Anytime teacher Amy Havens give instructors tips for teaching older female clients. All of the exercises suggested in the video can be done by older women. Learn how to expand the ribcage, relax the back, and much more.

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Which Pilates exercises should seniors focus on?

Seniors will benefit from both Mat Pilates and Reformer (Apparatus) Pilates sessions. Initially, you may want to take a few private classes with a trained Pilates teacher. This will help you become comfortable with the exercises and with modifications. Mat classes are often more available and less expensive than Reformer classes. Both offer another community via classmates of all ages. Private sessions will allow you to work more specifically on your personal goals. Once you've become comfortable with the basic Mat Pilates exercises, you can stream a class or practice from notes you've taken at home. Some great Pilates Mat exercises for seniors include the Single Leg Pull, Double Leg Pull, Side-lying Series, Clam, Modified plank, Chest Expansion, Leg Slides, and Thigh Folds.

What is Chair Pilates?

Pilates can begin with a series practiced just sitting in a chair. The preference here would be a straight chair with feet easily touching the ground, but even chair Pilates can be modified for a senior or others who find a stiff chair too much of a challenge. Your chair routine may just begin with arranging yourself to be in alignment in the chair (feet fist-width apart, "spread out" your glutes to be on your sitz bones, squeeze your butt to feel yourself "pop" up within your spine and experience using your lower abdominals to support your back). Next, you could practice the arm series (Hug a Tree, Back Rowing/Sitting Lats, the entire Standing Arm Series), Spine Twist (modified and avoided with osteoporosis), and leg extensions/adductor squeezes.

Featured Classes for Seniors

Our class selection includes Mat, Reformer, Magic Circle, Osteoporosis Safe, and more.

Precautions and Modifications

For Seniors with Osteoporosis

Pilates is great for seniors with osteoporosis. But a traditional Mat Pilates class is ill-advised. Many of the Mat exercises can be modified for safety for someone with osteoporosis, but the Roll Up, Roll Over, Jack Knife, Spine Twist, and Saw should not be practiced. You want to steer clear of any exercises involving bending forward or rolling on your back, as well as twisting at the spine. In general, it is a great idea to find a Pilates teacher who has knowledge of the dos and don'ts of Pilates for osteoporosis and take a class or some private instruction with them first.

For Seniors with Limited Range of Motion

One of the best things about Pilates is that it will meet your body wherever it is today. If you have limited range of motion, your Pilates practice is going to be modified to accommodate your range of motion. Do not try to force anything. Move more slowly and deliberately and use your breath to help you. Often the best work even for a young athlete is the work done within a very small range of motion, so consider yourself an Olympian and work within your range!

For Seniors with Arthritis

Seniors with joint issues or arthritis will benefit from a Pilates practice. But modifications and slow progression are important. Avoiding or modifying exercises that tire or strain joints is important. Some of the exercises to avoid are the Roll Over, Jack Knife, Spine Twist, and Rolling Like a Ball. Remember that one of the key components of Pilates is awareness and focus. Pay attention to your movement to make sure it is deliberate and to how you feel before, during, and after your Pilates exercises. Don't do anything that feels stressful to your spine or joints or "wrong" to you. Working with a trained Pilates teacher who has taken coursework in Pilates for arthritis and joint issues will get you off to the right start.

To Avoid Injury

Sometimes a senior Pilates student is a much better student than someone in his/her twenties! This is because we often ignore messages from our body when we are younger. We don't listen when we get a pain signal or to our common sense relative to "pushing through" something before we are ready. Your first job is always to do no harm. This is also true in your Pilates practice. Modify exercises. Slow down. Work "smaller" meaning using a smaller range of motion than you may think you are "supposed" to operate. Ask for help and schedule a few private sessions with a trained Pilates teacher. If something does hurt, stop doing it immediately. Listening to your body is a big part of being a Pilates student.

Senior Pilates Frequently Asked Questions

Should you find private instruction?

A great start to a Pilates practice for anyone is beginning with private sessions with a trained Pilates teacher. For a senior beginning a new exercise or wellness routine, private sessions with a Pilates teacher who is comfortable with modifying exercises for senior bodies is your best route to success. Choosing this versus a large group class in a community center or gym – even a class geared for seniors – will allow you to become comfortable in fundamental exercises and modifications and the dos and don'ts for your body.

Is Pilates good for balance?

Pilates is an excellent choice for increasing and maintaining balance. Pilates works on balancing muscles. You will work on evenly building strength and flexibility on both sides of your body while training small and large muscle groups alike. Good core strength is essential to physical balance. Pilates allows you to build strength to support posture and alignment.

What to do if you feel pain?

If you feel pain or discomfort during your Pilates session, stop whatever you are doing right away. If you are capable of being on the floor when you practice Pilates (versus in a chair), place yourself in neutral spine position with knees bent and feet on the floor and allow your body to rest with the help of gravity. Then check with your doctor before you continue to do Pilates. If you feel pain after a session, rest, check with your doctor, do not just jump back on that horse. If you feel like you've worked your muscles in a good way, keep moving. Do NOT practice the adage "no pain no gain" – using our bodies should not hurt. Your Pilates practice is designed to avoid pain or injury. Be your best advocate for safety and moderation. If you begin with more sessions or classes per week and need to cut back, do so.

Can Pilates help correct bow legs?

Pilates strengthens the body in alignment. When you practice it regularly, you can positively impact and even correct many issues, including bow legs.

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