Over 50 Pilates – a beginner program to get you started

To do classic Pilates requires a high level of core strength, movement control, coordination and flexibility. For this reason, the original exercises are often adapted to be more suitable for inexperienced participants. Alternatively, programs may include Pilates-style exercises, which follow the principles of the method but are not true Pilates exercises. An over 50 Pilates program for beginners can include both adapted Pilates exercise and Pilates-style exercises, but shouldn’t include the full classic exercises. It’s possible to work up to these with practice, but they aren’t suitable for beginners, especially not older beginners.

Pilates over 50 printable PDF

Reasons why Pilates is a good choice for over 50s exercise

  • Many of the exercises strengthen muscles, offsetting age related muscle loss
  • The exercises improve flexibility and joint mobility, helping to keep bodies supple
  • Many of the exercises improve spinal mobility, which also helps to maintain suppleness
  • There is a strong focus on correct posture – having good posture prevents undue stresses on joints and tight muscles
  • The breathing and mind-body element of Pilates promotes calmness and relaxation – this can be especially helpful during the menopause years
  • The exercises challenge coordination, which helps to keep minds and bodies agile
  • They also challenge balance, which helps to avoid age-related balance deterioration

Over 50 Pilates cautions and considerations

#1 No aerobic or weight bearing benefits

While doing Pilates will be very beneficial for all the above reasons, it would be better combined with another form of exercise for two reasons. Firstly, it doesn’t have an aerobic training effect and therefore doesn’t greatly benefit heart health or weight control. The other drawback is that it doesn’t have the bone health benefits that some other types of exercise have. As oestrogen levels decline during and after menopause, women start to lose bone mineral density. This means bones are more likely to fracture. Weight bearing exercise – that is exercise in which we are on our feet, supporting and moving our body weight – helps to maintain bone mineral density. Examples of exercise that would be good to combine with your Pilates program are walking, running or indoor aerobic exercise. You could try this walking program, this beginner running program or this indoor cardio circuit.

#2 Some exercises are not advisable if you have osteoporosis

Many Pilates exercises involve putting pressure on the spine and neck. This is fine for most people, but anyone already suffering from loss of bone mineral density (osteoporosis) should take advice from a health professional before doing Pilates.

#3 Some exercises risk stressing spine and joints

Some Pilates exercises aren’t suitable for over 50s, or arguably for any participants. These include exercises where the lower back is taken into an arched position, the knees are pushed backwards and where pressure is put on the neck or shoulders.

#4 Pilates exercises could compromise the lower back if done incorrectly

Pilates needs to be done with correct technique, or it can cause lower back injury. This applies to all ages, but is especially relevant with older participants because spine mobility decreases with age.

#5 Long established postural imbalances may mean progress is slow at first

By the age of 50, many people have had bad posture habits for years. If this is the case, then there are likely to be muscle imbalances, with some muscles being tight and others weak and stretched. Doing Pilates will improve this, but it will take time.

Over 50 Pilates – an introductory program

The over 50 Pilates workout starts with the essential step of finding neutral pelvis and two basic pelvic stability exercises.  These are followed by 4 adapted classic Pilates exercises.

Before you start the workout, please read these exercise safety guidelines.

You’ll need some form of cushioning for this workout – ideally an exercise mat. See an exercise mat buying guide here.

Neutral pelvis

To do Pilates properly, you need to be able to find the neutral pelvis position and hold on to it while doing the exercises. Our pelvis hinges on our thigh bones to enable movement to take place. At rest, it should be in a neutral position – neither tilting forwards nor backwards. It should also be in this position for most upright movement. This is often not the case though, as people develop poor posture.

How to find neutral pelvis

Pilates for core strength FIND NEUTRAL PELVIS

The exercises

Once you are confident that you’ve found neutral pelvis, start with these two basic core stabilising exercises:

#1 Toe taps

Toe taps

In this exercise, the core muscles must hold on to the neutral position, while you lower one leg at a time to the floor.

  1. Find neutral as described above, then take both feet of the floor to bring your legs to the starting position.
  2. Holding on to the neutral pelvis position, lower one leg to the floor. It’s important not to let the pelvis move – the core muscles will have to work to hold on to neutral.
  3. Bring the leg back up to the starting position and repeat with the other leg.
  4. Repeat for a total of 16.

#2 Abdominal hollowing

Ab hollowing

Abdominal hollowing is just sucking the core muscles in. You can do it in any position – standing, sitting, lying, kneeling .. but doing it in the all-4s kneeling position is good because you are working directly against gravity.

  1. Get into the all 4s position, then suck your abdominal area in as much as you can without your back moving.
  2. Hold for 5 seconds, release and repeat for a total of 5.

The rest of the exercises in this routine are classic Pilates exercises with modifications where appropriate.

#3 The 100

Pilates over 50 the 100

The 100 is one of the best known original Pilates exercises, which is often used as a warm up exercise. This is a modified version.

  1. Lay on the floor and raise your legs, as for the heel taps.
  2. Breathe in and then pulse your arms up and down by your side 5 times as you breathe out.
  3. Keep the arm movement as you breathe in for 5 pulses and then out again.
  4. Keep going with this for 10 breaths – that is, a total of 100 pulses.

#4 The shoulder bridge

Pilates over 50 shuolder bridge

In the Pilates shoulder bridge the objective is to work through the joints of your spine.  It improves mobility in your spine and core control.

  1. Start by lying on the floor with your knees bent and your feet about hip distance, with your pelvis in neutral.  Now press your lower back into the floor, tilting your pelvis backwards.
  2. Follow this movement through so that your lower back starts to peel off the floor.  You should be aiming to come into the bridge position with a smooth, controlled, curling movement.  Concentrate on working through one vertebra at a time.  You will probably find this difficult at first as parts of your spine will be less flexible.
  3. Stop when your whole spine is lifted and your weight is resting on your shoulders.
  4. Now reverse the movement, lowering back down one vertebra at a time. Again, it should be a smooth, controlled movement, working through each joint in the spine.
  5. Repeat for a total of 5.

#5 Single leg stretch

Single leg stretch

This one works your core stabilising muscles. Make sure you don’t arch your lower back.

  1. Lay on the floor with your arms by your side, your legs about hip distance apart and your pelvis in neutral.
  2. Bring both knees in towards your chest,  extend one leg as shown.  Your core muscles should be working to hold onto neutral (ie stopping your back from arching).
  3. Now reverse the movement and repeat on the other leg.
  4. Repeat for a total of 16.

#6 Spine stretch

Pilates over 50 spine stretch

This modification requires less strength and flexibility than the original version.

As with the shoulder bridge, try to get movement through your whole spine. Avoid just hinging forward from your hips.

  1. Sit with your back straight and your legs a bit wider than hip distance.  Ideally your legs should be straight, but if you have tight muscles at the back of your legs, you won’t be able to have both your legs and back straight.  In this case, bend your knees a little.
  2. Put your hands on the floor between your legs and  flex your feet
  3. Take a breath and exhale as you bend your head forward and then start to roll through your spine, sliding your hands forwards as you come down.
  4. When you feel the stretch in your back, take a breath and roll back up.
  5. Repeat for a total of 3.

Over 50 Pilates – the full workout

Toe taps x 16
Abdominal hollowing 5 x 5 seconds
The 100 – 100 pulses
Shoulder bridge x 5
Single leg stretch x 16
Spine stretch x 3

Related to over 50 Pilates

Exercise during menopause guideexercise for beginners over 50 circuit workout