To bolster ab and back muscles, try these Pilates stretches—doing them increases strength and flexibility, helping you to keep a trim profile 24-7.
Do these exercises 3 times a week to strengthen the muscles in your back and belly so you’ll stand taller and look slimmer.
Leg Lower and Lift
Lie on your back with your hands behind your head and your legs extended and lifted directly over your hips, perpendicular to the floor. Point your toes toward the ceiling, turn your feet out slightly, and lift your head, looking between your thighs. This is the starting position.
Inhale while lowering your legs toward the floor about 6 inches (don’t arch your back). Exhale while lifting them back up. Begin with 4 reps, and work up to 8.Back Extension
Lie on your stomach with your arms at your sides, palms up. Place your forehead on the floor. Keep looking down as you contract your back muscles and lift your torso off the floor, lengthening through the top of your head and reaching through your hands back toward your feet. Pause, then lower. Do 6 reps.
Now, extend your arms overhead so your palms rest on the floor in front of you (like Superman flying). With your upper body still and your legs slightly apart, lengthen and lift both legs as high as comfortably possible. Pause, then lower. Do 6 reps.
Post-Work Yoga Stretch
This yoga pose will help stretch tight hip muscles and prevent you from overarching your back and sticking out your belly while you stand. Do this move once a day, particularly after long periods of sitting.
Stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart. Take a giant step forward with your left foot, bending that knee so your thigh is almost parallel to the floor (be sure your knee does not jut past your toes). Turn your right foot out on an angle so your right arch faces the heel of your left foot. Raise your arms over your head, palms facing each other. Your hips and shoulders should be facing forward. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
Even if you start the day with perfect posture, it’s a hard position to hold when you’re at a desk for 8 to 9 hours. The result: After hours of tapping on a keyboard, driving a car, and sitting in front of the TV, your shoulders round, your chin juts forward, your lower back collapses so you’re sitting back on your butt—and your belly sticks out.
But you can avoid this meltdown and train your tummy-slimming muscles while you’re on your butt by following the guidelines for good seated posture and practicing the desk stretch. Studies show that taking short breaks during your workday—even just a few seconds to stretch—won’t decrease your productivity and can keep you sitting taller and looking slimmer.
Sit Tall Exercise
To keep your spine elongated against the constant pull of gravity while you’re in a chair, stretch it out at least twice during the workday.
Sit on the front edge of a chair with feet flat on the floor and your body weight evenly distributed on top of your two pelvic sit bones. Keeping your shoulders down, clasp your hands with fingers interlocked and raise your arms overhead, palms to the ceiling. Lift your abdominal muscles to lengthen your lower back and stretch your spine up while keeping your gaze forward. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Release your hands as you relax your arms down by your sides, keeping the spine lengthened. Exhale completely, inhale slowly, and then exhale again as you relax the muscles of your shoulders, arms, neck, and jaw.
Relax Your Tummy Away
In the pursuit of a belly worth baring, muscle strength and flexibility are only part of the battle. The other part is relaxation, says Hope Gillerman, who teaches the Alexander Technique, a bodywork therapy focused on reducing muscle tension and balancing the body, in New York City. “The stress of daily life puts us in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode,” she says. “That causes our neck muscles to contract and shoulders to hunch, pulling our head toward our spine. We’re constantly tensed up as if we were walking on ice.”
To shed built-up stress, Gillerman recommends a daily 10-minute floor stretch: Lie on your back, knees bent, and feet flat on the floor, with a telephone book under your head. Place your hands on your ribs and breathe deeply and evenly. Visualize your neck falling toward the floor and the top of your head floating away from your shoulders. Allow gravity to pull your back flat and relaxed. “It’s a subtle stretch, but it releases tension.”
During the day, keep stress from bulging your belly by doing the moves shown below. Perform these stretches twice a day—once midmorning and once midafternoon—to help prevent that stress-induced hunch and belly pooch.
Think of something pleasant; it helps relax your shoulders. Stand with your chest lifted and your shoulder blades down and back. Bend your left arm behind your back. Place the back of the left hand on your back and slide it up between your shoulder blades. Extend your right arm overhead, and bend the elbow, reaching your right hand between your shoulders to touch your left hand. Clasp fingers if possible. If your shoulders are too tight, place a small rolled towel in your right hand and use that to connect your hands. Stretch your elbows in opposite directions, breathing evenly for 30 seconds. Then release, switch arms, and repeat.Seated Arch
Sit straight on the edge of a chair and place your hands in a comfortable position on the back of your pelvis. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, gently push your abs forward, and lift your chest toward the ceiling. Carefully drop your head backward as far as comfortably possible. Hold for 10 seconds, breathing deeply throughout.