If your main goal in doing Pilates is to lose weight, you will need to do some cardio. You can read more about that here.
A Pilates workout will tone your body and make it firm, lean and flexible. You’ll improve your posture, strengthen your core, flatten your tummy, and have a great-looking body.
Below are a few basic Pilates exercises that anyone can do, even beginners. Make sure you do the exercises with proper form in order to get the most out of your workout.
Of the hundreds of Pilates exercises that you could do, these were chosen for the following reasons:
- They do not require any equipment other than a Pilates mat
- They can benefit people of any fitness level, physical capabilities, or age
- They’re ideal for both beginners and advanced practitioners
- They can give you the Pilates body that you’ve always wanted
- They can be easily incorporated into a weight-loss program
- The correct Pilates technique uses the “Powerhouse” or core muscles. These are the muscles in the lower back, abdominals, and glutes.
Before initiating a Pilates movement, the Powerhouse core must be engaged. Here is a 2 minute video that will help you properly engage your core muscles:
Exercise # 1 – The Hundred
One of the most basic (and easiest) Pilates exercises is the Hundred. This exercise consists of three sets corresponding to a “warm-up” set in the beginning, a vigorous set, and a “cool-down” set to relax the muscles. To perform this exercise properly, use the core muscles and remember to keep the neck muscles relaxed; that is, the head and neck should be in a neutral position in order to prevent or reduce neck pain.
You can perform any number of repetitions for this exercise but beginners are advised to start by doing only one round of each set.
- Lie flat on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms to your sides.
- Engage your core muscles, then exhale and slowly lift your shoulders and head off the floor and toward your knees.
- Now, lift your arms parallel to the floor, even with your hips.
- Next, draw your knees toward your chest. Lift the lower legs until it looks like there were resting on top of a table. This is called the table top position. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, begin pumping your arms vigorously up and down. Continue with the exercise, alternating between inhaling and exhaling for five seconds each.
- Be sure to flatten your belly when exhaling. Continue pumping your arms for 3 inhale/exhale cycles.
- Continue the Hundred exercise from the same position as in the beginning set. Now, straighten your legs out and up until it forms a 45-degree angle to the floor.
- Pump your arms vigorously for 3 sets of inhale/exhale cycle. Keep your legs straight and elevated, with the toes pointed. Keep the powerhouse core muscles engaged.
- Draw your arms to your chest and wrap your arms around your knees
- With controlled breath, exhale and inhale deeply for three counts
- When one round of this exercise is completed, you will have pumped your arms vigorously approximately one hundred times, hence the name.
Exercise #2 – Single Leg Stretch
The Single Leg Stretch helps target the lower abs. In this exercise, you’ll learn how to move from the center of the body. A strong lower back helps maintain the proper upper body curve.
This exercise requires strength and stamina to keep the torso stable while the legs and arms are in motion. The Single Leg Stretch also promotes coordination. It flattens the abs and tones the legs and arms.
To begin the exercise, lie on your back with knees bent. Raise your lower legs until the shins are parallel to the floor. This is the leg tabletop position.
- Inhale, breathing deeply into the lower abs and back.
- Exhale. While exhaling, pull your abs inward so that your bellybutton moves down toward your spine. Curl your head and shoulders up to the tips of the shoulder blades. At the same time, extend your left leg at a 45-degree angle.
- Keep the right leg in the tabletop position. Use your right hand to grasp the right ankle and move your left hand to the right knee.
- Maintain your upper-body curve while performing this exercise. Keep your shoulders relaxed and abs tight and deeply scooped.
- Switch legs while performing a two-part inhale. Inhale as the left knee comes in, and continue to bring more air in while gently pulsing that knee toward you. Extend the right leg. Place your left hand at the left ankle, right hand at the left knee.
- Switch legs while exhaling. This time, bring the right leg in while doing a two-part exhale/pulse. Extend the left leg.
- Repeat switching legs up to 10 times. Continue hand-to-leg coordination. The outside hand of the bent leg goes to the ankle while the other hand moves to the inside of the knee.
- This exercise can be done with the head down.
- If you feel back strain or the small of your back starts to come off the floor, then your legs are too low. Raise your legs high enough so that you feel your abs working, not your back.
- As your core becomes stronger, you can increase the challenge by lowering the legs or raising your head and shoulders.
Exercise #3 – Criss-Cross
This toning exercise strengthens the abdominals and targets the obliques. The obliques or muscles on the sides of the abdomen above the waist are often neglected in many exercises. The Criss-Cross exercise helps stabilize your core and trims your tummy.
- Lie flat on your back, maintaining a neutral spine.
- Bend your knees and bring your shins up so they are parallel to the floor.
- Place your hands behind your head, elbows wide to the side.
- Exhale. Tighten the abs and pull your tummy into a deep scoop. The pelvis should be in a neutral position (not tucked or tipped). Curl your chin to the chest and lift the shoulders off the mat, but only up to the base of the shoulder blades.
- Inhale and hold the position.
- Exhale. Extend your left leg out and rotate the torso toward the bent right knee.
- Inhale. Switch legs and bring the torso back to center.
- Exhale. Extend the right leg. Rotate the upper body toward the left knee.
- Start the exercise with 6 leg switches. Work your way up to 10.
Exercise #4 – Plank
In Pilates, the plank is known as front support. This popular exercise gives a full body challenge. It develops abdominal and shoulder stability. The plank also challenges the arms, legs and glutes. Beginners may want to start with an easier, modified version – the plank pose – and work up to the full Plank version.
If your upper body is not strong enough, start with the plank pose until you have developed enough upper body strength to do the full plank.
- Get down on your knees. Walk your hands out on the floor and allow your legs to stretch out behind you. Place your forearms on the floor parallel to each other. You can make a fist with your hands, if you like. Position yourself so that your shoulders are directly over your elbows.
- Lift your belly up from the floor and extend your spine to lengthen it. Pull up the lower abs. Do not put pressure on your lower back.
- Anchor your pubic bones to the floor. This will make your spine longer while protecting your back.
- While in the plank position, keep your shoulder blades and collarbone wide. Do not hunch your shoulders or move them up to your ears.
- Keep your head in a neutral position. Do not drop or tilt your head up. Imagine that the neck is an extension of the spine.
- Breathe deeply and hold the pose for 30 seconds.
- If you can’t hold the pose any longer, release the pose and rest. Repeat.
Exercise #5 – The Bridge
The Bridge is the perfect exercise for a firm and shapely butt. This exercise is used in both yoga and Pilates.
- Lie on your back with bent knees. Place your feet flat on the floor. Place your arms at your sides and keep your neck and shoulders relaxed.
- Inhale deeply. As you exhale, push into your feet and lift your hips off the floor. Your shoulders are now supporting the weight of your upper body. Your body should form a straight line, providing a clear view of your knees.
- Hold the bridge position for 5 to 10 breaths while squeezing your buttocks tight.
- Carefully roll your spine down one vertebra at a time.
Be sure to check with your doctor before performing this Pilates routine.