If crunches make you cringe, consider the Pilates Method to strengthen your trunk. Unlike conventional workouts, reverence for the torso is the very cornerstone of this elaborate system of exercise. "Most programs work from the extremities in," says Carol Appel, a certified instructor in San Francisco. "With Pilates, you focus on developing the abdominals and back first, and then work your way out to the limbs." The full-body technique comprises some 500 precise "movements" using a mat or one of four unique pieces of equipment — including the spooky-sounding reformer (shown above), a contraption whose leather straps and pulleys give it an alarming resemblance to something Torquemada might have employed — to strengthen your muscles through variable resistance. The movements emphasize controlled breathing and require great focus to perfect, which may explain why Pilates disciples are so uptight about how you practice the method. They'll insist that you need a one-on-one session with a certified instructor, about $45 an hour, to work that Pilates magic (call 800-474-5283 for information). But we see no harm in trying the following mat movement at home. Lie on the floor, feet flat directly beneath your knees. Bridge your pelvis off the floor, hold your hips with your hands and place your elbows on the floor. Your ribs, hips, and knees should be in line, your shoulders on the floor. Now inhale and lift one leg, straighten it toward the ceiling, and point your toe. As you exhale slowly, flex your foot and lower your leg to the starting position. Do three reps and repeat with other leg.
Bring Back the Jack
The last time you did jumping jacks was probably in preparation for a rousing game of sixth-grade kickball. Since then, the jack has been outshone by trendier maneuvers, but it remains damn fine exercise. "It's one of those fundamental movements that benefits the everyday athlete," says Radu, New York City's fitness guru for the well-to-do. "It has great cardiovascular results, yet it strengthens the shoulders, hips, knees, ankles..." And so on.
Here's a refresher of your grammar-school form: Arms at your sides and feet together, simultaneously jump your feet out to a stance just wider than your shoulders and bring your palms together above your head. Be sure to stay on the balls of your feet and bend your knees slightly. Jump back to the starting position. For a warm-up, do 40 reps with no rest. For a quick, stand-alone workout, do three sets of 50 to 100 reps. To stave off jumping-jack ennui, widen your stance or scissor your legs forward.
— Daryn Eller