Even if you don't have access to a Pilates Reformer, you can kick up your mat-based routine by adding a resistance band. These long rubber bands require a little more strength during exercises that you've mastered using just your body weight.
You'll get more control from the long, flat swaths rather than the tubular options with handles. Plan your Pilates resistance band workouts around specific body parts to improve joint mobility, enhance muscular function and, of course, strengthen your core. If you've got the time, combine all of these exercises in one long workout.
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Spine Rotation Workout
Twisting is a key action in Pilates. It engages spinal support muscles, such as the quadratus lumborum, and the rotational muscles of the internal and external obliques. Using a resistance band really helps you feel these muscles.
Spinal Rotation: Sit on your buttocks with your legs extended in front of you. Wrap the band around your left foot and hold both ends of the band on your left hand. With the hand holding the band in front of your chest, flex your left foot. Rest your right hand on your right thigh. Lean back as you lift your left leg to about a 45-degree angle and twist left, gently pulling the band to increase the resistance. Do between five and 10 repetitions, then switch sides.
Single-Leg Stretch: Lie on your back. Lift your legs so your knees are over your hips and your shins are parallel to the floor. Hold the resistance band with one end in each hand. Open your arms slightly to create a feeling of resistance. Raise your head and backs of your shoulders an inch or so above the mat. Exhale and extend the right leg forward at a 45-degree angle. Simultaneously twist, holding the taut band, to the left. Come back to center and repeat going in the other direction. Do 10 repetitions.
Glutes and Leg Workout
Pilates maintains that peripheral movements in the arms and legs originate from the core, which spans from your shoulders to your hips. When you add a resistance band to Pilates exercises that target the glutes and legs, the extra challenge helps your feel the stabilizing role your core plays during these exercises.
Donkey Kick: Get onto all fours. Tuck your toes and wrap the resistance band around the bottom of your right foot. Hold the ends of your band underneath your right hand. Keep your knee bent and push the sole of your foot toward the ceiling; ensure the foot is flexed. Squeeze your glutes and pulse 16 times. Repeat on the left side.
Straight-Leg Lift: Lie on your right side with your hips stacked. Angle your legs slightly in front of your body. Loop the resistance band around the bottom of your left foot and hold both ends in your left hand; place the hand on the floor. Prop your head up on your right elbow. Inhale and lift your left leg up toward the ceiling, foot flexed to keep hold of the resistance band. Go as high as you can and then lower with control as you exhale. Repeat eight to 10, then roll over and switch sides.
Side Kicks: Begin in the same position as the straight-leg lift. Hover the banded left leg just above your right foot. Inhale and pulse the leg forward for two counts and then swing it back for one count. Use control as you continue for eight repetitions. Switch legs.
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The ab series is the hallmark of a Pilates mat program. It trains your superficial and deep abdominal muscles while bringing your attention to spinal imprinting, which activates the important muscles that support the spine. A resistance band increases the challenge of these staple Pilates moves.
Resisted Crunch: Fold the resistance band in half and lie down on top of it lengthwise. The ends should be firmly planted under your buttocks and the folded loop just peeks out from under your head. Bend your knees and reach overhead to grab the resistance band loop. Inhale, draw your chin slightly toward your chest and crunch up, just lifting your head, neck and back of the shoulders. Let the band lift up with you to create resistance. Repeat 16 times.
Resisted Roll-Down: Sit on your buttocks with your legs extended. Squeeze your legs together, flex your feet and wrap the band around the bottoms of your feet. Hold one end in each hand, arms extended in front of you. Inhale, bend your elbows against the resistance and slowly roll backwards to lower onto your back. Pull your abs in as you roll down. Sit back up and repeat 10 more times.
Straight-Leg Stretch: Lie on your back, lift your legs straight up over your hips and wrap the resistance band around the bottoms of both feet. Hold one handle in each hand, hands resting alongside your hips. The band should feel taut. Lift your head and shoulders just above the mat as you inhale and lower your legs for three counts. Stop when you feel your back begin to arch off the floor. Exhale, return the legs above your hips. Repeat about 10 times.