Yes, The Hundred Matters & You Should be Doing It Everyday!
I don’t know why some people still dread doing The Hundred, a foundational Pilates exercise. In the Classical Pilates order of exercises, it‘s right at the beginning because it gets the body ready to work. Everything gets turned on. Even though it’s one of the first actions you learn when you start doing Pilates, it’s no beginners-only, abs workout. The Hundred offers a range of benefits that make it ideal for practitioners of all levels. Sure, it can be pretty tough to do, especially if you're just starting out. Actually, it can be challenging to us veterans, too! But let me assure you… this exercise is essential to your fitness journey. The Hundred offers a range of benefits that you can't get from any other move. It can be modified in dozens of ways to fit any fitness level or body limitations. And it offers direct benefits to any sport you want to play. If you'd just like to make it through the day with a bit more energy - and a lot less pain, then this is the exercise that needs to be the anchor in your fitness routine.
In this blog post, we'll talk about the importance of The Hundred and how to make it more manageable for your body.
So What Is The Hundred & Why Is It Such a Big Deal?
As you can see from the picture, the classic version of The Hundred is done on your back (on the floor or on Pilates equipment), the head is kept in an elevated position, the legs are extended up, and the arms reach long & parallel to the ground. During the exercise, the back muscles will help to control a pumping action of the arms, while the breath moves in and out of the body in rhythmic cycles. The abdominals, legs and gluteals will be in a contracted, supportive hold from start to finish. Each one of those breathing cycles (usually 5 inhales + 5 exhales) adds up to 10, then you repeat 10 times…that’s how we get the name The Hundred!
Of course, it’s great for the abs, but this one exercise also works on:
elongating the body
connecting the breath to your work
building core strength
teaching the core to support the body
In addition, it effectively works the connection between the leg and gluteal muscles which means more strength in the lower body and less pain in the lower back. The Hundred can also improve postural alignment. For those looking to build upper body strength, The Hundred is also a great choice because it immediately connects the abs with the muscles of the back and arms. Whatever workout or sport your planning to do after this exercise will benefit right away!
How Do I Make The Hundred Work For Me?
There's a reason the Hundred is such a popular move in Pilates. Whether you’re just starting out on your fitness journey or you are a seasoned pro, it can be modified to increase or decrease in difficulty. By altering the basic position and the breath cycles, you can accommodate any number of pre-existing limitations or turn this action into one of the greatest challenges you’ll ever do.
- As long as you can breathe through the work, you've got this!
Challenge: Neck pain/strain just trying to hold the position.
Keep the chin slightly pointed down, with your gaze on your thighs or bellybutton. Many people extend the chin to the ceiling which can place a great deal of tension on the neck muscles. Resist the urge to push the chin into the collarbones, which is just as bad for your neck.
Place the hands behind the head for support and skip the pumping arms for now. Push your head into your hands while simultaneously pushing the hands against your head. Now, think about your chest lifting up first…trust me, your head will follow.
Place a pillow or rolled towel behind the head, not too high, at the occipital. Then don’t worry about lifting your upper body at all. You’ll still be working all the correct muscle groups. Notice I didn’t say behind the neck. The supported head should not be tilted back so that you look like you’re just about to receive CPR!
Challenge: Lower Back Pain/Strain just trying to hold the position.
Don’t hold the legs too low. Legs are heavy! There’s whole lotta’ muscles and bones in there and keeping those extended legs too close to the ground can force the lower back into an arched position. If you cannot keep the back firmly pressed to the floor with abdominal and gluteal support, then its going to pull on your back.
Keep the legs in a bent knee, tabletop position, either in the air, on a chair, or on Pilates Box.
Bend the knees and keep the feet on the floor.
Raise only one leg in either tabletop or full extension.
Do any of the leg options 1-4 with your head supported by your hands or a pillow. Sometimes the combination is necessary. Listen to your body!
Challenge: Arms pumping feels loose and wiggly.
Keep those elbows and wrists straight. The whole arm should be moving firmly, in a short range of motion. I tell people to focus on moving the upper arms with the triceps wrapped in tight.
Remember this motion actually starts from the back! It’s as if you were trying to keep the bottom of the shoulder blades pulled toward your center spine while your fingers are trying to reach for your toes.
Do one arm for 5 breath cycles then the other. We all have stronger and weaker sides. Sometimes letting one side at a time be the star can help you feel the connections.
Add very light weights to your Hundred. I mean VERY LIGHT! 1-3lbs is usually enough. I’ve only ever had a few powerlifters that needed more weight than that. If you feel any strain in the neck, shoulder, wrists, elbows or back…the weight is too heavy.
Challenge: The Classic Position is feeling kinda’ easy now. (Whoo-Hoo For You!)
Lower the legs. Find the lowest level you can hold those legs straight without lifting the lower back off of the floor, usually around a 45-degree angle.
Alternate pointing and flexing the toes and ankles. Seems like such a small thing, but try pointing during your 5-count inhale and flexing during the 5-count exhale to fire up those legs!
Keep your legs straight but place your feet on the floor or cross them at the ankles. Don’t forget to switch which ankle is on top midway through.
Mix up your breathing. Try changing the counts of your inhale and exhale. Just make sure they add up to 10. For example, I love inhaling for a count of 3 or 4, then exhaling for a count of 7 or6 to really feel the connection & control in my breath and muscle contractions.
How Exactly Does The Hundred Help Me When I’m Playing a Sport or Working Out?
Weak abdominals or pretty 6-packs that aren’t connected to your actions can make playing tennis or golf a real pain in the…well, you get the idea. Even everyday activities like grocery shopping, doing laundry, sitting at your desk, or dealing with your daily commute can trigger pain when the body isn’t supported. And that's where the Hundred comes in. This move can be used as a dynamic warm up to any sport you’re getting ready to do. It can also just get you ready for your day. The basic position provides isometric resistance work for the legs, the glutes, the chest, the back, the arms, as well as the abdominals. You’re literally getting stronger from head to toe every time you do it. The Hundred, via the arm motion and breath work, also forces the body to focus on balancing. You’ll clearly feel if one area or side of your body is not connected or is unable to support you. Since so many sports and lifestyle habits are unbalanced actions, this exercise provides some mindful time to become aware of it…and the tip in this post can help you focus on correcting those imbalances. Then, when you‘re playing tennis or carrying your kid, you’ll use your body so much more effectively. And all that fancy breathing means increased blood flow and oxygen to your muscles. Quality circulation with well oxygenated muscles means less inflammation and less pain for you!
THE BOTTOM LINE
So, the next time you're dreading doing The Hundred, try it a different way. Don't be embarrassed to ask for a modification. If you're in pain or don't feel the connection to your muscles then absolutely, it should be modified. Know that you can make this exercise your own!
And remember - it's one of the most essential exercises for your Pilates practice, your sports training, and your general well being.
If you're looking for more ways to make this exercise work for you, give me call. We can schedule a virtual session (or let me know if you’re in the Los Angeles area). Then I can help you find just the right modifications to make this challenging move work better for you and your body.
In the meantime, just do The Hundred!