Pilates might be one of the most popular low-impact exercises around, but it’s hardly anything new. In fact, Pilates was first discovered nearly 100 years ago, in the 1920s when Joseph and Clara Pilates opened their very first studio in New York City. Since then, it’s caught on with countless cultures around the world from generations young and old.
There are countless benefits of Pilates, including improved flexibility and posture, increased muscle strength and energy, decreased back pain and stress and even boosted immunity. But one lesser-known benefit of Pilates is one that most people will appreciate: debloating.
Bloating, which is the result of gas or air that fills the gastrointestinal tract, can occur for a myriad of reasons, including eating certain foods, hormones, an overgrowth of gut bacteria and digestive disorders. “Sometimes certain foods, such as beans, lentils and cruciferous vegetables can be the culprit for bloating as well as dietary sensitivities such as gluten and dairy,” says Laura Wilson, instructor at Natural Pilates. Needless to say, the feeling of being bloated is less-than-desirable, with stomach distension, pain and gas.
Luckily, Pilates can help relieve the symptoms associated with bloating, as well as the physical nature that comes along with it. “Pilates forces your body to connect with your breath work, destress your body and lengthens the muscles which will help stretch and activate the muscles around the digestive tract,” says Brooke Taylor, personal trainer and creator of the Brooke Taylor Fit App. “Your abs are naturally connected to your diaphragm and getting blood flow to the targeted area will help stimulate the lymphatic system, digestive system and naturally massage the intestines aiding in fluid draining, relieving retention.”
Whether you’re looking for a quick fix for bloating or are hoping to incorporate more pilates into your fitness routine, here are some of the best moves to help you with debloating, according to experts.
One of the more popular Pilates moves is actually one of the best for debloating. “This is a great flexion and rotation exercise that will gently massage the intestinal wall by breaking down any gas,” says Taylor. “The rotation and twisting motion will get the fluids moving and blood flow to the targeted area which will help stimulate the lymphatic system.”
How to: Start laying on your back with your spine imprinted, legs in table top and arms resting gently behind your head. Inhale to flex the spine off of the floor. As you exhale, rotate to one side and simultaneously extend the opposite leg long. Inhale, pass through the center, and rotate to the opposite side. Focus on bringing the opposite elbow to knee, while maintaining a nice imprinted spine in the back. Repeat 15x.
This exercise, which looks a bit like a yoga move, is great at activating the anterior chain of the body, according to Taylor. “When performed properly, this exercise causes the abdominals muscle to contract by flexing the spine,” she says. “The breath pattern and contraction will help stimulate the intestinal wall which will naturally help get the air bubbles and gas moving.”
How to: Start laying on your back, your legs in table-top position and your arms resting gently by your sides. As you inhale, flex the head, neck and shoulders up off of the ground. Maintain a flexed position exhale for 5 counts, start pulsing the arms as you reach them towards the toes. Imagine as if you are pressing down on springs with your arms in line with your shoulders. Inhale for 5 counts. Repeat this rhythmically for 10 full sets maintaining your flexed position.
This is not the type of swimming you’re used to, but rather a Pilates move that can help you with debloating and release built-up air in your stomach. “This is a quicker-paced movement pattern that forces the body to stay in extension, thereby lengthening the muscles around the stomach and relieving any pressure or tension,” says Taylor. “It opens up the anterior chain of the body allowing the body to shift things around in the digestive tract.”
How to: Start laying facedown on the ground with the arms and legs extended out long. Slightly extend the spine so that your arms and legs are hovering off of the ground. As you inhale, reach the right arm and left leg away from each other, feel the oppositional pull in the body, then as you exhale switch.
This move might look a bit funny, but it works wonders on your digestive tract, helping to alleviate bloating and any pressure or air that might be trapped inside. “The goal with this move is to bring your legs up and over your body reaching for the ground, parallel to the floor lengthening in the lower back,” says Taylor. “As you inhale, lift the legs up a couple of inches parallel to the floor, open the legs, flex the feet and slowly lower down vertebrae by vertebrae until you connect to your imprint and extend your legs on a nice long line reaching away from the body.”
How to: Start lying on your back with your legs in table-top position, your spine imprinted and palms by your sides. As you inhale, extend the legs on a long diagonal as low as you can maintain an imprinted position. As you exhale scoop in the abdominals, sending the legs up and over as you articulate vertebrae by vertebrae off of the ground.