It’s the age-old question every exerciser, no matter how fit or disciplined, has asked at one point: Why does working out have to be so hard? Enter Los Angeles Pilates guru Nicole Stuart, who says it doesn’t.
“You don’t have to work out like a crazy person to get the results you want,” maintains Stuart, who was trained by Mari Winsor and whose toned, A-list clients include Anna Faris, Kate Hudson, and Goldie Hawn.
“Yes, it’s important to sweat and before you do Pilates you should go for a mile-long run, jump rope, or do some sprints on the treadmill,” she says. “But I don’t believe in pushing yourself too much.” (She has some notable company in that regard.)
The key to stealth strengthening, Stuart says, is stretching—which warms the joints and promotes flexibility, “so your muscles can work in their full range of motion.” And she’s sharing her go-to moves for stretching and covert toning.
“Not only do they lengthen and strengthen to give that longer, leaner look, but when you stretch you breathe, you release stress and tension and make more space in the body,” Stuart says, who’s currently pregnant and in her second trimester (so if she can do these moves…). “It’s really a release both physically and emotionally.”
The Roll Up: This classic Pilates move stretches out the spine, hamstrings, and lower back while targeting the abs (it’s been said that one roll up is the equivalent of six regular sit-ups). Start by lying down on your back with your arms and legs extended in opposite directions, stretching your body as long as possible. Make sure your ribs and spine are pushed down into the ground, then tuck your chin into your chest and slowly roll up one vertebrae at a time, pulling your stomach in and moving into a forward bend. Roll back down—with control—and repeat.
Single Straight Leg Stretch: This Pilates mat exercise stretches the backs of the legs while working the upper abdominals and hips. Begin by lying on your back with your legs extended straight out in front of you, arms along your sides, shoulders away from your ears, and your ribs and spine pushed down into the ground. Curl your head, then your shoulders, then your upper body into a C-curve off the ground. Raise your right leg up straight over your chest and grab your right ankle or calf, pulling your straight leg to you while your left leg hovers a couple of inches off the floor. Keep your legs straight throughout this exercise to stabilize the core muscles, and switch legs by scissoring them (pictured)—before repeating on the other side.
Legs Over Head: This classic mat sequence move—which stretches the spine, lengthens the hamstrings, and works the entire trunk—is pretty advanced, as it requires a lot of control. Begin by lying on your back with your legs extended straight out in front of you, arms along your sides, shoulders away from your ears, and ribs and spine pushed down into the ground. On an inhalation, lift your legs off the floor and over your head until they’re parallel with the floor. Stay off of your neck by keeping your weight across the top of your back and shoulders, then—if you can—let your feet drop to the floor. Keep your legs hip-width apart and slowly roll back down to your starting position one vertebra at a time, using your abdominal muscles. —Rachel Marlowe
For more information, visit www.nicolestuart.com