Menopause is a time of great, but confusing, change. There are hormonal fluctuations, a loss of bone density, and — everyone’s favorite — weight gain. These are just a few of the fun outcomes you can expect.
It’s no surprise that a healthy lifestyle will help you feel better through this transitionary time in your life. Strength training supports bone health and may help to prevent osteoporosis, which is a huge benefit as women go through menopause.
Specifically, Pilates can be a perfect exercise for premenopausal and menopausal women. It’s low-impact, but it helps increase flexibility and balance and improve muscle strength and tone. It even includes endurance movements. Below are some Pilates mat moves to help get you started.
Note: If you have any known pelvic floor issues from menopause or another cause, you will want to discuss it with a pelvic floor specialist or your doctor before doing intense core exercises like these. Also, before starting any new exercise format, check with your doctor whether it’s appropriate for you and your body.
Equipment needed: For all the moves below, a yoga mat or other type of padded exercise mat is recommended.
1. The Hundred
The Hundred is a wonderful core exercise, and it’s also a fundamental Pilates move. It will help you strengthen your core (called the “powerhouse” in Pilates) and improve the stability of your lumbar spine and pelvis.
Muscles worked: abdominals and respiration muscles
- Lie flat on the mat, on your back, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- As you exhale a deep breath, flatten your lower back onto the mat, curl your head and shoulders up off the mat, and float your arms so they’re still by your sides, but a few inches off the mat.
- As you inhale, draw your abs into the spine and pump your arms up and down keeping your shoulders stable to a count of 5.
- Continue engaging your abs and pumping your arms as you exhale to a count of 5.
- Count to 100, switching your breathing in and then out at intervals of 5.
For added challenge, start with your legs in the air bent at a 90-degree angle at the hips and knees. Your shins should be parallel to the floor. Performing The Hundred in this position adds more challenge for the lower abdominals. The key is to challenge your abdominals without hurting or straining your lower back.
2. Roll Up
You may be noticing a theme: this is also a core exercise. The Roll Up is great for spinal mobility and core control.
Muscles worked: abdominals
- Lie flat on your back with your legs extended straight out on the mat. Engage your abdominals and lift your arms up overhead, palms up, letting them hover a few inches off the mat.
- As you inhale, flex your feet and engage your lats (latissimus dorsi) to move your arms so they’re 90 degrees from the floor.
- As your arms hit that angle, exhale, curl your head and shoulders off the mat and continue to draw your abdominals into your spine as you sit yourself up, peeling one vertebra off the mat at a time. Note: Press your lower back into the mat to protect it as you sit up.
- As you sit all the way forward, reaching toward your toes, your spine will continue to curl until you look almost as if you’re resting, with your torso over your legs. However, your abdominals should remain active; you want your abs pulling in toward your spine and your back muscles actively stretching.
- When you need to inhale again, begin to curl back to lying down, releasing your feet from the flex and reversing the motion, leading by slowly releasing vertebra by vertebra to the mat until your arms are again at 90 degrees, when you’ll exhale and release your arms above your head.
- Repeat at least 5 times.
3. Side kick
This move is a stability exercise. It’s a wonderful exercise for strengthening the muscles of the hip joint, as well as building core strength.
Muscles worked: glutes, abdominals, hips, and spine extensors
- Lie on your left side stacking your shoulders, hips, and ankles vertically on top of one another. Move your legs slightly forward at a slight angle so you can see your toes. Support your head on your left arm. Press your right palm onto the floor to help you to maintain your position.
- As you inhale, lift your right leg to hip level and pulse it forward twice, flexing your foot. You can pulse it at a 75-degree angle or more, depending on your flexibility. Maintain a neutral spine throughout this movement.
- Keeping your leg lifted, exhale as you gently point your toes and sweep your leg backward. You want to stop the backward motion just before it compromises your neutral spine stability. The goal is to maintain the same spinal position using your core as you strengthen the hip.
- Repeat at least 8 times on your right leg and then switch to the other side.
The saw exercise increases spinal rotation and strengthens your back extensors, which helps your upper body flexibility and range of motion and strengthens your abdominals and obliques.
Muscles worked: spinal extensors, abdominals, and obliques
- Sit up tall with your legs extended out in front of you, slightly wider than hip distance. (Imagine having a beach ball or exercise ball between your feet.) Keep your feet flexed.
- As you inhale, sit up tall and stretch your arms out to each side, creating a “T” with them at shoulder height. Exhale and root into your sit bones.
- As you inhale again, rotate your upper body to the right, and lean your torso toward your right leg. As you exhale, reach your left hand for the outside of your right foot. Reach for your pinky toe as if you’re “sawing” it off with the pinky finger of your left hand. Your spine should round forward with control, keeping your abdominals pulled in toward your spine and stretching your lower back.
- Inhaling, straighten your spine, but stay rotated until you exhale, when you’ll gently unwind.
- Repeat on the opposite side, completing at least 5 times on each side.
5. Spine stretch
This is a nice stretch to end this short series of Pilates moves with. It helps with stretching the lower back and improving spinal mobility. Additionally, it works your abdominals.
Muscles worked: abdominals and spinal extensors
- Sit up tall with your legs extended out in front of you, this time at hip-distance apart, feet flexed. As you inhale, your arms should be stretched out in front of you, palms down, at shoulder-width distance.
- Exhale as you lengthen your spine upward then roll forward, articulating your spine one vertebra at a time as you reach toward your feet; you want to keep your arms parallel to the floor, palms down as you stretch. Remember to pull your abdominals in as you stretch.
- Inhale as you restack your spine, rolling back up to your starting position.
- Repeat these steps 5 times.
Research found that women who were experiencing menopause symptoms and engaged in exercise programs that include aerobic and strength-training exercises had better bone density levels and mental health outcomes. Work the above moves into your regular exercise routine and see how they make you feel. But always talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.
Gretchen began her yoga journey after she realized she loved working as an editor and writer who sat at her computer all day, but she didn’t love what it was doing for her health or general wellness. Six months after finishing her 200-hour RYT in 2013, she went through hip surgery, suddenly giving her an entire new perspective on movement, pain, and yoga, and informing her teaching approach.