Pilates Exercises – Guides with Photos and Instructions for Poses

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Pilates is a philosophy of connections. It is not about doing a quantity of reps for each exercise. It is about the quality of the performance of each repetition that is the most important concept. Pilates principles in all Pilates exercises will lead to physical change of tone, posture and flexibility.

Pilates (pronounced: puh-lah-teez) improves your mental and physical well-being, increases flexibility, and strengthens muscles. Pilates uses controlled movements in the form of mat exercises or equipment to tone and strengthen the body. For decades, it’s been the exercise of choice for dancers and gymnasts (and now Hollywood actors), but it was originally used to rehabilitate bedridden or immobile patients during World War I.

Pilates is a body conditioning routine that seeks to build flexibility, strength, endurance, and coordination without adding muscle bulk. In addition, Pilates increases circulation and helps to sculpt the body and strengthen the body’s “core” or “powerhouse” (torso). People who do Pilates regularly feel they have better posture, are less prone to injury, and experience better overall health.

Pilates Exercises with Photos and Instructions

 

1 Minute Rolldown

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting, legs bent slightly wider than hips, hands holding back of knees take one full minute to roll down on to back one vertebra at a time. Keep feet on floor use hands and arms to hold onto legs inhale before starting, exhale as long as possible to roll down if you run out of breath pause movement to inhale then continue on next exhale. Goal is to open space between vertebra in flexion (round back) create length and flexibility in spine if you plop down on mat, then roll only 1/2 way down and roll back up. Repeat 3x

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Back Support

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting, hands on mat behind body, fingers turned to sides or toward body. Legs are straight and together. Pull shoulders down from ears, lift out of shoulders. Lift hips off mat to create a plank position. Hold position, on inhale lift right leg up without moving hips at all. Exhale to lower leg. Switch to left leg. Lift each leg 3x. Lower hips down to sitting. Do 4 sets.

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Bicycle

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Kick top leg forward, bend knee, move knee back, hold, straighten leg. Then kick leg forward to repeat. Now reverse, kick straight leg back, bend knee, bring knee forward, hold, straighten leg in front and kick back to repeat 8x each side.

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Boomerang

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting, arms at sides(touching mat), cross left leg over right. Roll down to mat one vertebra at a time. As soon as head touches mat, lift legs up and over head, arms should be supporting body. Hold position to switch crossed legs (right leg over left). Roll legs down to 45 degree angle and at the same time roll torso up, arms in front of shoulders creating a teaser (legs are still crossed). Hold while arms reach behind back, hands clasped together and stretch them away from back. Hold arms up while lowering legs to floor and chest lowering towards legs as well. Now let go of hands behind back gently and reach around toward feet. Roll back to the sitting beginning position. Inhale to prepare, roll back till legs overhead on exhale, inhale hold, exhale to roll up to teaser position inhale and exhale to reach arms backward, inhale to lower legs and chest down. Exhale arms to toes and sitting up. Repeat all 5x.

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Breathing and Hollowing

Purpose
Pilates teaches you how to use the deepest abdominal muscles, the transverse. This is like a corset. The transverse is the muscle that will pull the belly contents in. The breath is the best way to train this muscle. The hollowing is the transverse abdominals deflating the belly in. Bad version, the bulge, is pushing the abdominal out. The hollow must initiate in every Pilates exercise first. There is no pouching the belly out in Pilates.

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To Start 
Lie on the back with your legs bend. The hands are placed one inch below the navel on both sides.

The Hollowing

  1. Inhale into the lower back ribs. Use the breath to widen the back ribs on the floor.
  2. Count out loud 8 counts the exhale as the belly deflates. Each count the belly should sink deeper towards the sacrum. This is the hollow.
  3. Repeat two more sets

The inhale will be shorter than the exhale in this exercise. Your goal is to increase the counts and simultaneously hollow the abdominals deeper with each count. Practice this hollowing in sitting, on all fours and standing.

Bridge with Leg Circles

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, knees bent feet hip width apart, pelvis and spine are neutral, arms at sides palms down. Right leg up bent in a 90 degree angle or “table top” position. Contract ab muscles inward (without using butt muscles) to tilt hip bones and low back into floor, lift butt first, then low back, then mid back off floor one vertebra at a time, do this in sequence. Extend right leg up straight. Circle leg clockwise in small circles 6x, circle leg counter-clockwise in small circles 6x. Lower back down to mat one vertebra at a time. Finish in neutral position. Bring right leg down to mat, keep hips up and hold left leg up table top then straighten up to ceiling. Circle leg both directions, 6x each way. Inhale to prepare before movement, exhale while lifting hips and spine, hold hips up, inhale, exhale to lower spine and hips down. This exercise is good for stabilizing pelvis while increasing range of motion of hip joint.

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Shoulder Bridge

Preparation:

  1. Lie on the back with knees bent and feet in parallel.
  2. If the back is working to hard, modify the height of the pelvis. You must learn how to lift the pelvis up with the strength of the legs.

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To Start:

  1. Bridge the pelvis off the floor with the legs.
  2. Exhale with a hollow and lift the left thigh and extend leg to the ceiling.
  3. Inhale and lower straight leg to the floor with maintaining the bridge.
  4. Exhale and extend left leg back to the ceiling.
  5. Return foot to the floor
  6. Exhale with a hollow and lift the right thigh and extend leg to the ceiling.
  7. Inhale and lower straight leg to the floor with maintaining the bridge.
  8. Exhale and extend right leg back to the ceiling.
  9. Return foot to the floor
  10. Lower pelvis back to original position
  11. Repeat three more sets

 

Bridge with Thigh Lift

Preparation:

  1. Lie on the back with knees bent and feet in parallel.
  2. If the back is working to hard, modify the height of the pelvis. You must learn how to lift the pelvis up with the strength of the legs.

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To Start:

  1. Press down the feet into the floor to engage the hamstrings. Using the muscles around the top of the thighbone, lift the pelvis up towards the ceiling and the feet simultaneous.
  2. Exhale with a hollow and lift the bent left thigh up to 90 degrees. The pelvis should remain in neutral.
  3. Inhale and lower leg to floor. Maintain the bridge.
  4. Exhale with a hollow and lift the other bent left thigh up to 90 degrees.
  5. Return foot to the floor.
  6. Lower pelvis back to original position.
  7. Repeat three more sets.

 

Bridging

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, knees bent feet hip width apart, pelvis and spine are neutral, arms at sides palms down. Contract ab muscles inward (without using butt muscles) to tilt hip bones and low back into floor, lift butt first, then low back, then mid back off floor one vertebra at a time, do this in sequence. Reverse to lower back down to mat. Finish in neutral position. Inhale to prepare before movement, exhale while lifting hips and spine,hold hips up inhale, exhale to lower spine and hips down. Use abdominal muscles to isolate each vertebra in the back, this will increase flexibility in spine during round back (flexion) positions. Repeat 6x.

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Cat

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
On hands and knees, keep chest lifted away from mat (like pushing the floor away) inhale to prepare,exhale draw stomach muscles into round back bringing crown of head toward belly button, keep length in neck by pulling shoulder blades down the back away from ears, reverse spine to arch so that the mid back is lower than the tailbone, don’t sink into shoulders, chest must stay lifted away from mat at all times. Repeat 6x.

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Cat with Balance

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
On hands and knees, keep chest lifted away from mat (like pushing the floor away) inhale to prepare,exhale draw stomach muscles inward hold spine neutral, hold left arm up near ear, keep shoulder down, hold balance for 3 seconds. While arm is up lift right leg up straight behind hold balance for 3 seconds. Repeat with right arm up, then adding left leg. Repeat 3x each side.

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Intermediate Corkscrew

To Start:

  1. Lie on the back with legs extended to the ceiling. The arms are extended out to the side.
  2. Rotate the pelvis to the left with control. Use the abdominals to bring the pelvis back to neutral. Repeat to the other side. Modify the movement if the shoulders are doing the work. This is an abdominal exercise especially for the obliques.
  3. Repeat five more sets.

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Advanced Corkscrew

To Start:

  1. Lie on the back with the legs extended to the ceiling. The arms are extended out to the side.
  2. Rotate the pelvis to the left with control. Curl the tailbone off of the floor to swivel the pelvis to the plow position. Rotate the pelvis to the right and control the right side of the spine back on the floor. Use the abdominals to center the pelvis on the floor and extend the legs away from the head.
  3. Repeat to the other side.
  4. Repeat five more sets.

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Criss Cross

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, legs bent 90 degree angle, hands behind head, neutral spine, lift chest and head till shoulder blades barely touch mat. Keeping bent knees totally still, turn right arm pit toward left knee then turn left armpit toward right knee. Do not lead elbow to knee, lead with armpit. Inhale turn right, exhale turn left. Repeat 6x Then change breathing, inhale turn left, exhale. Repeat 6x.

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Criss Cross with Legs

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, legs bent 90 degree angle, hands behind head, neutral spine, lift chest and head till shoulder blades barely touch mat. Pelvis and hips should remain still as one leg stretches away from chest and the other bends toward the toward the chest. Turn right armpit toward left knee then turn left armpit toward right knee. Do not lead elbow to knee, lead with armpit. inhale turn right, exhale turn left. Repeat 6x then change breathing, inhale turn left, exhale turn right. Repeat 6x.

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Double Leg Kicks

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on stomach, engage pelvic floor, head down to right side. Hold one hand with other hand behind low back, legs straight and together. At same time, bend knees twice like kicking your butt while lifting knees slightly off mat. Press hips into floor. While straightening legs reach arms off back and straight behind to lift chest off mat (look down at mat). When chest comes down to mat bend knees again to repeat. Inhale 2x when bending knees, exhale 1x when lifting chest and straightening knees. Repeat 8x.

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Double Leg Kick Variation

To Start:

  1. Lie on the belly with both knees bent and parallel. Lace hands behind the back.
  2. Exhale and simultaneously extend the arms, legs and spine.
  3. Inhale and extend arms overhead.
  4. Roll to the right side and balance.
  5. Roll back on belly with arms, legs and spine extended.
  6. Return to original position.
  7. Repeat to the other side.
  8. Repeat two more sets.

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Double Leg Lift

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In neutral lie on back, legs table top-90 degree angle-lift head and shoulders off mat only as far as shoulder blades barely touch mat, hands behind head. Engage pelvic floor muscles. Try not to flatten low back completely, keep a tiny space under it, keeping the lower abs in will stabilize this area. Lift legs up toward ceiling at 45 degree angle. Lower legs 6 inches on exhale, lift on inhale. Repeat 6x.

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Double Leg Stretch Intermediate

Preparation:

  1. Lie on the back with both knees bent and feet off the floor. Place the hands behind the head. Float the head off the floor.
  2. Practice 3 sets of breath with hollowing. Feel the belly deflate with the hollow.
  3. The lower the leg to the floor demands more abdominal control. If you feel the back, bring the leg higher or return to beginner version. This is about the abdominals working!

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To Start:

  1. Lie on back with both knees bent and feet off the floor. The hands are placed on each knee. Float the head off the floor.
  2. Exhale, hollow and extend legs and arms towards opposite walls. *(If back is working, modify the range or go back to beginner version).
  3. Inhale, and circle arms from overhead towards the extended legs.
  4. Exhale, deepen the hollow, touch hands to bent knees and flex upper spine closer to the knees.
  5. Repeat three more sets.

 

Double Leg Stretch Advanced

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In neutral lie on back, legs table top-90 degree angle, lift head and shoulders off mat only as far as shoulder blades barely touch mat. Engage pelvic floor muscles. Try not to flatten low back completely, keep a tiny space under it, keeping the low abs in stabilize this area. Arms are straight on each side of knees. do not bend arms. lift arms up to ears-keep shoulders down, open arms then circle back to knees. Inhale lift arms, exhale circle arms back to knees, head & chest stay up. When this feels easy add leg movement. When arms go up lift legs slightly away and up toward ceiling, bring legs back down to bent position when arms circle back toward knees. Same breath as first version. Repeat 8x.

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Double Leg To Ceiling

Preparation:

  1. Lie on the back with both knees bent and feet off the floor. Place the hands behind the head. Float the head off the floor.
  2. Practice 3 sets of breath with hollowing. Feel the belly deflate with the hollow.

The lower the leg to the floor demands more abdominal control. If you feel the back, bring the leg higher or return to beginner version. This is about the abdominals working!

Beginner Version #1

Beginner Version #1

Beginner Version #2

Beginner Version #2

DOUBLE LEG TO CEILING:

  1. Lie on back with both knees bent and feet off the floor. The hands are laced behind the head. Float the head off the floor.
  2. Exhale, hollow and extend both legs towards the ceiling.
  3. Inhale, bend knees and flex upper spine closer to the knees.
  4. Repeat three more sets.

 

Double Knee Lift

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In neutral lie on back, legs table top-90 degree angle-lift head and shoulders off mat only as far as shoulder blades barely touch mat, hands behind head. Engage pelvic floor muscles. Try not to flatten low back completely, keep a tiny space under it, keeping the lower abs in will stabilize this area. Lift bent legs up toward ceiling at 90 degree angle. Lower legs 6 inches on exhale, lift on inhale. Repeat 6x.

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Extension

Purpose
To strengthen the back. This is very important for us to do these days with our spines flexed at the computer, car and watching TV’s.

To Start: 

  1. Lie on the belly with the legs extended and arms by the sides. Keep the arms relax during this exercise.
  2. Imagine the vertebra being like push buttons. To extend the spine, the vertebras have to move closer together and into the body. The front ribs lengthen to help the spine extend.

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The Movement:

  1. Float the head off the floor like a baby does.
  2. Lift higher only if you feel length not compression.
  3. Repeat three more times.
  4. Add lifting the arms slightly off of the floor with the head.
  5. Repeat three more times.

HIP EXTENSION

To Start:

  1. Lie on the belly with legs parallel. Rest the forehead on the back of the hands.

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The Movement:

  1. Tuck the toes under and reach the heels backwards. This will extend the legs and bring the knees off the floor.
  2. Without changing the extended leg, point the foot.
  3. Repeat with the other leg.
  4. Repeat 3 sets.
  5. Repeat 3 sets of lifting both legs off the floor.

Observation
Were the front of the hips on the floor with the lifting of the legs? If you felt it in the back, make the movement smaller.

ALL TOGETHER NOW

The Movement:

  1. Lift the spine, arms and legs slightly of the floor.
  2. Repeat two more times.

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Flight

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on stomach arms at sides palms down, legs slightly apart and turned outward. pull abdominals in, away from floor. Forehead resting on mat or use a small rolled up towel, lift chest off mat (no bending at neck) using upper back muscles along spine, keep face looking down at mat. goal is to move upper back without using lower back muscles. shoulder blades glide down back toward feet with width between them. hold up for 2-3 seconds. Lower down with out letting low back and pelvis relax. repeat 6x can also do this with arms bent on either side of head, palms and forearms down. can use hands to help push chest up. Inhale and exhale to prepare, then lift chest on inhale, feel width in ribcage while doing so. lower down on the exhale. When finished with repetitions push chest up and sit back on heels with head down on mat, arms overhead, for a resting position.

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Head and Chest Float

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, knees bent and hip width. Hands holding head. Spine is in neutral, engage pelvic floor. With out using neck and without moving hips/low back lift head and chest off mat. Lift till shoulder blades barely touch mat. Use strength in abdominals, shoulders and arms to completely hold weight of head. The neck muscles must be totally relaxed. Lift on exhale, lower on inhale keeping ribcage pulled in. The more the abdominals pull in the quicker the neck relaxes. Repeat 6x.

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Hip Circles

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting, hands behind back, lean slightly back, fingers turned backwards. Hold legs up like teaser position. Feet will draw an infinity symbol (sideways figure 8) Emphasize or “accent” the lifting of legs. Inhale lower legs to left diagonal, exhale lift legs up on left side, inhale lower legs to right diagonal, exhale lift them up on right side back to beginning. Repeat 3x then readjust arm to hips distance because body will travel during movement. Repeat another 3x Stay lifted out of shoulders throughout, chest does not turn, only hips rock back forth with legs.

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The Hundred

Exercise Overview

  • The goal is to create circulation from head to toe and move the breath in and out of the body. It centers the mind, and invigorates the body.

The Hundred – Exercise Instructions

  • Lie back to the center of your mat. Pull your abdominals in and up. Tighten your buttocks. Using your Powerhouse (abdominals, buttocks and lower back), bend your knees to your chest.
  • Now extend your legs only as low as you can keep your lower back on the mat and your abdominals flat.
  • Reach your arms and fingertips long, bring your chin to your chest and start pumping your arms up and down vigorously.
  • Breathe in slowly through the nose for 5 pumps and out through the nose for 5 pumps.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Finish by lowering the head and arms, and bring the knees to the chest with your Powerhouse.

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REMINDERKeep your shoulder blades on the mat as you pump. Fill the lungs with air, and then empty the lungs. Do only as many as you can, to start. Remember to keep your abdominals flat and to tighten your buttocks!

 

Hundred for Back Issues

Exercise Overview

  • The goal is to create circulation from head to toe and move the breath in and out of the body. It centers the mind, and invigorates the body.

The Hundred for Back Conditions – Exercise Instructions

  • Lie on your back.
  • Using your Powerhouse, bring both knees to your chest or to a tabletop position. Keep them there the entire exercise, and press your lower back into the floor.
  • Pull your abdominals in towards your spine, and tighten your buttocks.
  • Bring your head up and look into your abdominals.
  • Reach your arms and fingertips long, off the floor, and start pumping your arms vigorously.
  • Breathe in slowly through the nose for 5 pumps and out through the nose for 5 pumps.
  • Repeat 10 times
  • Finish by lowering the head and arms, and bring the knees to the chest with your Powerhouse.
Modification A

Modification A

REMINDERKeep your shoulder blades on the mat as you pump. Fill the lungs with air, and then empty the lungs. Do only as many as you can to start. Remember to keep your abdominals flat and to tighten your buttocks!

The Hundred for Back Conditions – Exercise Instructions

  • Using your Powerhouse, bend your knees and place your feet flat onto the floor hips width apart. Press your lower back and feet into the floor. Keep them there the entire exercise.
  • Bring your head up and look into your abdominals. Keep your abdominals flat and buttocks tight the entire exercise.
  • Reach your arms and fingertips long and start pumping your arms vigorously.
  • Breathe in slowly through the nose for 5 pumps and out through the nose for 5 pumps.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • Finish by lowering the head and arms.
Modification B

Modification B

Modification B

Modification B

REMINDERKeep your shoulder blades on the mat as you pump. Fill the lungs with air, and then empty the lungs. Do only as many as you can to start. Remember to keep your abdominals flat and to tighten your buttocks!

 

Hundred for Neck Conditions

Exercise Overview

  • The goal is to create circulation from head to toe and move the breath in and out of the body. It centers the mind, and invigorates the body.

The Hundred for Neck Conditions – Exercise Instructions

  • Place the pillow under your head and keep your head there throughout the exercise.
  • Using your Powerhouse, bend your knees to your chest and then extend your legs straight up – 90 degrees. You can also bend your knees in the same tabletop position as explained in Modification A for Back Conditions.
  • Reach your arms and fingertips long off the floor and start pumping vigorously.
  • Breathe in slowly through the nose for 5 pumps and out through the nose for 5 pumps.
  • Repeat 10 times
  • Finish by lowering the head and arms, and bring the knees to the chest with your Powerhouse.
  • Have a small pillow handy

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REMINDERFill the lungs with air, and then empty the lungs. Do only as many as you can to start. Remember to keep your abdominals flat and to tighten your buttocks!

 

Knee Sway

To Start:

  1. Lie on the back with bent knees. The feet are off of the floor. The arms are extended out to the side.
  2. Rotate the pelvis to the left with control. Use the abdominals to bring the pelvis back to neutral. Repeat to the other side. Modify the movement if the shoulders are doing the work. This is an abdominal exercise especially for the obliques.
  3. Repeat five more sets.

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Kneeling Side Leg Kicks

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
On knees, place left hand on mat at side, extend right leg straight, to right side, shift weight on top of left knee, hold right arm out to side. Lift right leg up and down, without moving hips or torso. Inhale to prepare, exhale lift leg, inhale to lower. Repeat 6x.

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Kneeling Side Leg Kicks Advanced

Purpose
This is about spinal stability with mobility of the legs.

To Start:

  1. Start on all fours, hands and knees. Place the weight on the right hand and right knee as the left side lifts towards the ceiling. The front body will be facing front.
  2. Slowly swing the leg forward with the maintenance of the head-tail connection. Swing the top leg backwards. It is important to keep the pelvis still. If the pelvis rotates, the exercise has lost the stability of the spine and the workload in the legs.
  3. Repeat seven more times.
  4. Repeat to the other side with eight leg swings.

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Leg Circles

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, arms straight at sides. Neutral spine and engage pelvic floor. Lift right leg straight up without losing neutral (hip bones should be level with each other) circle leg in air to side, then down, other side and up, pause. Continue for 6x, pausing after each circle. repeat circle in other direction 6x. Repeat circles with other leg up, 6x each way. Goal is to not let pelvis move while leg is moving. leg on floor is the working leg, it must “anchor” the other leg. Inhale first half of each leg circle, exhale second half of each leg circle.

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Leg Circles with Arms Up

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, neutral spine and engage pelvic floor. Lift right leg straight up without losing neutral (hip bones should be level with each other). Hold arms up toward ceiling, circle leg in air in a small circle, pause after each circle. Circle for 6x repeat in other direction 6x. Lift left leg for circles 6x each way. Do not let pelvis move while leg is moving. Leg on floor is the working leg, it must “anchor” the other leg. inhale first half of each leg circle, exhale second half of each leg circle.

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Leg Slide

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, knees bent feet hip width apart, pelvis and spine are neutral, arms at sides palms down. Contract ab muscles inward (without using butt muscles) while sliding right heel along mat away from butt till leg is straight. Do this slowly. Feel length in leg as if someone were gently pulling on leg. Do not let lower back arch up away from floor, must remain still and stable. Return leg to bent position slowly, again sliding heel along mat. The leg does not lift. Do same with left leg. Inhale to prepare before movement, exhale while moving leg. Repeat 3x each leg.

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Leg Pull Front to Downward Dog

To Start:

  1. In the pushup position, extend the right foot off of the floor. Lift the right leg to the ceiling and move backwards to a downward dog. Extend the spine forward to return to the pushup position with the right foot still off of the floor. Repeat to the other side.
  2. Repeat two more sets.

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Neck Pulls

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sit tall, legs straight and together, feet can be relaxed, hands behind head, keep shoulders down. Start at tailbone rolling down on to mat, one vertebra at a time. Keep elbows open at all times. Keep legs and feet on mat while rolling down. Roll right back up, also one vertebra at a time. Keep chin pulled into back of neck. Challenge shoulder stabilization while using deep abdominal muscles to articulate vertebra in spine. Repeat 6x.

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Oblique Hundreds

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In neutral lie on back, legs table top-90 degree angle-lift head and shoulders off mat only as far as shoulder blades barely touch mat. Engage pelvic floor muscles. Try not to flatten low back completely, keep a tiny space under it, keeping the lower abs in will stabilize this area. Lift legs up toward ceiling at 45 degree angle, squeeze arm pit muscles (like you are holding a small ball in armpit and don’t want it to drop) turn chest to left and straight arms pump up and down (on left side), 5 inhales then 5 exhales (10x), turn chest to right (on right side), pump arms, 5 inhales then 5 exhales (10x). Pumping arms remain low and must coordinate with inhales and exhales.

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Oblique Rollups

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sit tall, legs straight and together, arms straight in front of shoulders. Turn chest to left Start at tailbone and roll down on left side of back to mat one vertebra at a time. Keep legs and feet on mat while rolling down. Turn chest to right to roll up, also one vertebra at a time. Repeat 4x Reverse direction, turn chest to right and roll down, turn chest to left and roll up. Repeat 4x Don’t let arms drop when rolling up or down. Keep chin pulled into back of neck. Goal is to articulate vertebra in spine by using deep abdominal oblique muscles. Repeat 6x.

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One Leg Bridge

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, knees bent feet hip width apart, pelvis and spine are neutral, arms at sides palms down. One leg up bent in a 90 degree angle or “table top” position. Contract ab muscles inward (without using butt muscles) to tilt hip bones and low back into floor, lift butt first, then low back, then mid back off floor one vertebra at a time, do this in sequence. Reverse to lower back down to mat. Finish in neutral position. inhale to prepare before movement, exhale while lifting hips and spine, hold hips up, inhale, exhale to lower spine and hips down. Stabilize pelvis (hip bones must remain level with each other) while isolating each vertebra in the back. This will increase flexibility in spine in round back (flexion) position by pulling abdominal muscles inward. Repeat 4x each leg.

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Open Leg Rocker

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting, bend knees to chest, hold lower legs with hands. Tilt tail bone under to create roundness in low back and hold balance for 3 seconds. Straighten legs and open them hip width while balancing. Inhale and exhale while balancing to prepare. Inhale roll back lifting butt into air, exhale to roll back up to balance. Keep chest lifted and legs straight while rocking back and forth. Pull abdominals in to control movement and to keep low back rounded. Roll back onto shoulders (not neck). When rocking back up pause to control balance each time. Important to hold spinal flexion (roundness) with shoulder and hip stabilization during dynamic movement. Repeat 8x without losing form.

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Pelvic Shift Forward to Sequential

To Start:
Lie on the back with knees bent and feet in parallel.

*If the back is working to hard, modify the height of the pelvis. You must learn how to lift the pelvis up with the strength of the legs.

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PELVIC SHIFT FORWARD TO SEQUENTIAL:

  1. Press down the feet into the floor to engage the hamstrings. Using the muscles around the top of the thighbone, lift the pelvis up towards the ceiling and the feet simultaneous.
  2. The ribs between the shoulder blades are wide on the floor. The spine is in neutral.
  3. Keeping the legs active, slowly peel the spine back on the floor. Use your breath to lengthen the back longer on the floor.
  4. Repeat three more times.

 

Plank

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
On hands and knees, position your hands shoulder width apart and your knees hip width apart. Walk hands away from feet so that hips drop lower to floor, create a straight line from crown of head to knees, keep chest lifted (see cat) if this is easy, straighten one leg behind then other leg, tuck toes and push heels back, this creates a straight line from head to heels, hold position on knees or on toes for 15 seconds. Repeat 6x exhale into position, while in position continue to actively breath, create shoulder stability in connection with abdominals.

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Push Ups

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Standing, equal weight on feet, front and back, left and right. Start at head to roll down through spine till hands touch floor, legs should remain straight. Walk hands out till in a plank position, chest facing down. Keeping elbows pulled in to sides (as if protecting armpits and waist), lower chest down to mat until nose is 1-2 inches from floor. Shoulders blades must stay flat on ribcage, not winging out. Push up to straight arms, repeat 3x then walk hands back to feet keeping legs straight, head down. Hands are still touching mat, now slowly roll up through spine to standing beginning position. Inhale to prepare, exhale to roll down, inhale walk hands exhale and inhale for each pushup. Inhale to walk hands back, then exhale to roll up. Repeat sequence 3x.

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Quadruped To Pushup

To Start:

  1. Place weight on the hands and the knees with the spine in neutral.
  2. Extend the right leg backwards. Place the right metatarsal on the floor.
  3. Extend the left leg backwards to come to a pushup position.
  4. How long can you hold the position? Is the abdominals hollowing into the spine?
  5. Repeat three more times.

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Beginner Roll Down with Theraband

The theraband teaches how much the limbs have to be active for the Pilates roll down.

To start:

  1. Sit with legs extended. Place theraband around feet and hold the theraband close to the feet. Bend knees if hamstrings are tight.
  2. Exhale, hollow abdominals and sequence the spine on to the floor.
  3. Inhale and lengthen the head away from the feet.
  4. Exhale, hollow and roll back up.
  5. Repeat two more sets.
  6. Not suggested for hernia disks and osteoporosis of the spine

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Intermediate Roll Down

The theraband teaches how much the limbs have to be active for the Pilates roll down.

To Start:

  1. Sit with legs extended. Place theraband around the back and hold the theraband with the hands. Bend knees if hamstrings are tight.
  2. Exhale, hollow abdominals and sequence the spine on to the floor.
  3. Inhale and lengthen the head away from the feet.
  4. Exhale, hollow and roll back up.
  5. Repeat two more sets.
  6. Not suggested for hernia disks and osteoporosis of the spine.

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Roll Down

To start:

  1. Sit with legs extended. Reach hands forward with neutral spine. Bend knees if hamstrings are tight.
  2. Exhale, hollow abdominals and sequence the spine on to the floor.
  3. Inhale and lengthen the head away from the feet.
  4. Exhale, hollow and roll back up.
  5. Repeat two more sets.
  6. Not suggested for hernia disks and osteoporosis of the spine.

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Rolling like a Ball

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting, bend knees to chest, hold back of thighs with hands. Tilt tail bone under to creat a round low back, hold feet off of mat inhale and exhale to increase the roundness of the back. hold this balance for 3 seconds. inhale to prepare, exhale round the entire back if not already, then roll back onto shoulders (not neck). Continue to exhale when rolling back up,hold balance. Goal is to roll back and forth with a round back without the feet touching the mat at all. Repeat 8x.

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Beginner Rollover

To Start:

  1. Use a yoga bolster or towels/blankets folded. The higher the prop will assist the exercise.
  2. Place the pelvis on the prop with the upper ribs wide on the floor. The legs are extended to the ceiling. The arms are pressing down on the prop.
  3. Hollow and curl the tailbone off of the prop. The goal is to use the abdominals to bring the spine in a small plow position. Do not use momentum. The legs do not touch the floor. This is an abdominal exercise.
  4. Control down from the plow.
  5. Repeat three more times.
  6. This is not an exercise for clients with osteoporosis of the spine and herniated disks.

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Rollover

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, straight arms at sides. Legs at table top-90 degree angle. Straighten legs to ceiling, then lower to 45 degree angle, maintain neutral spine. If back hurts don’t lower legs as far. Lift legs up and lowering legs toward floor only as far as the abdominals and back can stabilize in neutral. Sequence vertebra one at a time on way up and down. Inhale to prepare, lift on exhale, hold on inhale, exhale to roll down. Keep stable in shoulder girdle while moving lower body.

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Intermediate Rollover

To Start:

  1. Use a yoga blocks or books for each hand. The higher the proper will assist the exercise.
  2. Lie on the back. Place the hands on the prop with the upper ribs wide on the floor. The arms are extended and the legs reaching to the ceiling. The arms are pressing down on the prop.
  3. Hollow and curl the tailbone off of floor. The goal is to use the abdominals to bring the spine into a plow position. Do not use momentum. The legs do not touch the floor. This is an abdominal exercise.
  4. Hold the plow and control the legs to widen a foot apart.
  5. Control down from the plow. When the hips are on the floor, reach the legs away from the head with great abdominal support.
  6. Repeat three more times.
  7. This is not an exercise for clients with osteoporosis of the spine and herniated disks.

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Advanced Rollover

Important Notice
This is not an exercise for clients with osteoporosis of the spine and herniated disks.

To Start:

  1. Lie on the back with the arms extended on the floor and the legs reaching to the ceiling. The arms are pressing down on the floor.
  2. Hollow and curl the tailbone off of floor. The goal is to use the abdominals to bring the spine into a plow position. Do not use momentum. This is an abdominal exercise.
  3. Hold the plow and control the legs to widen a foot apart.
  4. Control down from the plow. When the hips are on the floor, reach the legs away from the head with great abdominal support.
  5. Repeat three more times.

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Rollover with Leg Lifts

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, straight arms at sides. Legs at table top-90 degree angle. Straighten legs to ceiling, then lower to 45 degree angle, maintain neutral spine. Lift legs up and over toward floor overhead, hold position, while balancing lift one straight leg toward ceiling, lower leg down then lift other leg. Repeat 3x each leg. Roll back down lowering legs toward floor only as far as the abdominals and back can stabilize in neutral. Sequence vertebra one at a time on way up and down. Inhale to prepare, lift on exhale, hold on inhale, exhale to roll down. Keep shoulder girdle stable while moving lower body.

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Rollup

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sit tall, legs straight and together, toes pointed up, arms straight up near ears but in front of them. Start at tailbone rolling down on to mat, one vertebra at a time. Keep legs and feet on mat while rolling down. roll right back up, also one vertebra at a time. Don’t let arms drop when rolling up. Keep chin pulled into back of neck. Articulate vertebra in spine by using deep abdominal muscles. Repeat 6x.

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Rotation

Purpose
Rotation exercises like the Pilates mat exercise, the saw and the corkscrew, use the obliques.

To Start:

  1. Lie on the back with knees bent and feet in parallel. Place the hands on the front of the pelvis

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The Movement:

  1. Inhale and gently drop the knees to the right.
  2. Exhale, hollow and engage the left internal obliques to rotate the pelvis to the original position.
  3. Inhale gently drop the knees to the left.
  4. Exhale, hollow and engage the right internal obliques to rotate the pelvis to the original position
  5. Repeat 4 more sets

Observation
The return of the pelvis should be initiated by the abdominals. The legs need to be working on the return.

 

Saw

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting legs straight, slightly wider than hips, feet flexed toes up. Sit tall on butt with hips square, bend knees if unable to have a neutral (straight) spine, arms lifted to sides slightly in front of shoulders. Turn chest to left, right hand reaches to “saw” or touch left foot’s little toe. Left arm reaches behind body. Sit back up tall then repeat to right. Turn chest to right, left hand reaches for right foot’s little toe. Right arm reaches behind body. Do not move or twist hips to reach for toe, only go as far as you can keep both butt bones down on mat. Inhale twist, exhaling reaching for toe and coming back to sitting. Repeat 6x each side.

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Seal

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting, soles of feet together, knees wide open. Hold outside of ankles from inside of thighs. Hold legs off mat and balance. Clap feet together by opening thighs (knees move away from each other) in hip sockets 3x. Tilt tailbone under and roll back onto shoulders (not neck). Hold this position on shoulders and clap 3x before rolling back up. Pause after each roll back. Repeat 8x.

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Shoulder Stand

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, straight arms at sides. Legs at table top, 90 degree angle. Straighten legs to ceiling, lift legs up and over toward floor overhead, use bent arms as prop to hold hips up. Scissors first: Keeping legs straight separate them, left forward, right back, then switch. Continue to switch for 5x. Inhale left, exhale right. Reverse breathing 5x. Inhale right, exhale left. Bicycle next: From scissor, right leg toward chest bend the knee and straighten away from chest while left leg lifts up straight. When left leg gets to chest it bends and straightens away from chest as the right leg did, keep repeating, 8x each leg. This creates a circular motion forward. Now reverse legs, bicycling backward 8x.

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Beginner Side Leg Kicks with Wall

Purpose
This is about spinal stability with mobility of the legs.

To Start:

  1. Lie on the right side of the body with the back against the wall. The top leg is pressing backwards on the wall.
  2. Feel the length of the spine with abdominals engaged. Slide the top leg up to the ceiling as the leg simultaneously presses on the wall.
  3. Repeat seven more times.
  4. Repeat to the other side with eight leg lifts.

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Observation
If the spine is moving with the hip hiking, the workload will go to the back instead of the legs. Lift the leg at a height with the spine staying quiet.

 

Side Leg Kicks

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on side, bring legs together toward chest slightly stack hip on top of other hip, waist line will not touch floor, head down resting on elbow/arm, keep neutral spine, kick leg forward while keeping hip bone pulled back (should feel like an opposition) keep leg straight if possible then kick back till leg lines up with torso in straight line, torso does not move, only leg does. Repeat 6-8x each side.

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Side Leg Kick Series

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on side, bring legs together toward chest slightly stack hip on top of other hip, waist line will not touch floor, head down resting on elbow/arm, keep neutral spine. Kick leg forward while keeping hip bone pulled back (should feel like an opposition) keep leg straight if possible then kick back till leg lines up with torso in straight line, torso does not move, only leg does. Repeat 8x each side.

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Single Leg Kick

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on stomach, arms bent, support chest on forearms, palms down. Lift chest but keep low at first. hip bones are off floor, straight legs are apart hip distance. kick right foot twice then straighten once, repeat with left foot, keep alternating, keeping upper body and hips still, not moving at all. Repeat 6x each leg inhale twice on kicks, exhale once when straightening leg. Keep shoulder blades reaching down back, back of neck long, looking at the floor. Create a straight line from crown of head to knees, keep chest lifted (see cat) if this is easy, straighten one leg behind then other leg, tuck toes and push heels back, this creates a straight line from head to heels, hold position on knees or on toes for 15 seconds. Repeat 6x exhale into position, while in position continue to actively breathe, create shoulder stability in connection with abdominals.

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Single Leg Kick Backs

To Start:

  1. Lie on the belly with legs parallel. Place the weight on the forearms in parallel and bring the spine in extension (cobra). The forearms are in front of the shoulders. If the back is uncomfortable, rest forehead on the back of the hands.
  2. Bend the right knee and gently kick twice towards the spine. Both hips remain on the floor.
  3. Repeat on the left knee.
  4. Repeat 5 more sets.

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Single Leg Switch

Preparation:

  1. Lie on the back with both knees bent and feet off the floor.
  2. Place the hands below the navel. Practice 3 sets of breath with hollowing. Feel the hands sink with the hollow.

The lower you move your straight leg down to the floor will cause more demand on your abdominals. If you feel pressure in the back, bring the leg higher or return it to the beginner version #1 position. This is about the abdominals working! If your back hurts then go back to the Pilates principles.

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Beginner Version #1

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Beginner Version #2

SINGLE LEG SWITCH:

  1. Lace hands behind the head. Float the head up as the lower abdominals hollow towards the spine. Inhale without sticking your belly out.
  2. Hollow as one leg extends to the ceiling.
  3. Inhale and return to the original position.
  4. Repeat breath pattern on other leg.
  5. Repeat 7 more sets.

 

Single Leg Stretch

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In neutral lie on back, legs table top-90 degree angle, lift head and shoulders off mat only as far as shoulder blades barely touch mat. Try not to flatten low back completely, keep a tiny space under it, the lower abs are supposed to stabilize this area. One leg bent to chest, place hands on this knee, other leg reaches away from body. If right knee bent then right hand touches right ankle, other hand on right knee. The legs continually switch back and forth, the hands switching as well. Inhale grab right leg, exhale grab left leg. Repeat 6x. Reverse breathe-inhale grab left leg, exhale grab right leg. Repeat 6x.

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Single Leg Stretch with Pulses

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In neutral lie on back, legs table top-90 degree angle, lift head and shoulders off mat only as far as shoulder blades barely touch mat. Try not to flatten low back completely, keep a tiny space under it, the lower abs are supposed to stabilize this area. One leg bent, place hands on this knee, other leg reaches away from body. If right knee bent then right hand touches right ankle, other hand on right knee. The legs continually switch back and forth, the hands switching as well. Each pull will get an extra pull or “pulse”. Coordinate breathing with the pulls, inhale twice, with right knee (pull, pull) then exhale twice with left knee(pull, pull). Repeat 6x Switch sides-inhale twice pull left knee, exhale twice pull right knee. Repeat 6x.

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Single Leg Twist

Preparation:

  1. Lie on the back with both knees bent and feet off the floor.
  2. Place the hands below the navel. Practice 3 sets of breath with hollowing. Feel the hands sink with the hollow.

The lower the leg to the floor demands more abdominal control. If you feel pain in the back, bring the leg higher or return to beginner version. This is about the abdominals working! If the back hurts, go back to Pilates principles.

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To Start:

  1. Lace hands behind the head. Float the head up as the lower abdominals hollow towards the spine.
  2. Rotate the upper spine by touching the left elbow to the right bent knee. The left leg is extended.
  3. Switch legs and twist the spine to left bend knee. The right elbow is reaching the left knee.
  4. Repeat 8 more sets.

 

Spinal Flexion

Purpose
This is the crunch in traditional exercises. The difference is keeping the belly hollowed as the spine lengthens in flexion. Find length, not a crunch of the spine.

To Start:

  1. Lie on the back with parallel legs bent. Lace the hands behind the head.
  2. Before starting the movement, become conscious of the spaces between the vertebra of the spine.
  3. Use the hands to support the head.

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The Movement:

  1. Inhale and feel the lower ribs broaden and lengthen on the floor with breath.
  2. Exhale, hollow and sink the lower ribs into the floor as the head floats off the floor. Feel the back ribs spread open as the spine flexes. Feel the back ribs opening as the front ribs come closer together.
  3. Return the spine back to the floor by matching the length of the front ribs to the back ribs.
  4. Repeat three more times.

Observation
Did the belly remain hollowed or did you pooch the belly out when you flexed your spine?

 

Spine Stretch

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting, legs bent, slightly wider than hips, spine in neutral, sit tall on butt bones arms up in front of shoulders, inhale to prepare, exhale to round back, scoop abdominals inward to bend forward, arms reaching forward as well, shoulders staying pulled back, inhale, return to sitting goal is to stretch spine by pulling abdominal muscles up and inward, this will increase flexibility in forward bending movements. Repeat 6x.

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Spine Twist

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sitting legs straight, legs together, feet flexed and toes up. Engage pelvic floor muscles. Sit tall on butt bones, hips square, bend knees if unable to have a neutral (straight) spine, arms bent in front of chest (only hands overlap). Turn chest to left during inhale, keep weight on opposite hip and keep hip pulled back. Turn chest back to center during exhale. Turn chest to right during inhale, turn chest back to center on exhale. Keep arms in front of chest when turning. Repeat 6x each side.

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Straight Leg Stretch

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In a neutral position while lying on your back, position your legs in a table top 90 degree angle. Lift your head and shoulders off the mat until your shoulder blades barely touch the mat. Try not to flatten your lower back completely and keep a tiny space under it. The lower abs are supposed to stabilize this area. Straighten both legs up then lower one leg down. Grab the leg that is up with both hands, switch legs and then grab the other leg. Inhale and grab the right leg then exhale and grab the left leg. Repeat 6 times and reverse. Inhale and grab the left leg then exhale and grab the right leg. Repeat 6 times.

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Swan

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on your stomach with your arms bent at the elbows and your forearms pressed down at the sides of your shoulders onto a mat. While lying face down, you can put a small rolled up towel under your forehead if needed. Your legs will be straight and slightly apart and turned out. Lift your chest off the floor. Your head stays lined up with the upper back. Your chest and head lift at the same time while pressing your forearms into the floor for support. Contract your upper back muscles to lift while pressing hips and pubic bone into floor, do not bend at low back, lower chest down to floor, as chest lowers lift legs slightly off mat to create a rocking motion. keep shoulders wide pulled away from ears, goal is to increase flexibility in upper spine with support from lower spine and pelvis. Goal is to stabilize pelvis while rocking arch extension in spine. Repeat 6x.

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Swimming

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on stomach, straight arms overhead, engage pelvic floor. Legs straight, lift abdominals off mat. Lift chest with arms off mat at same time lift legs off mat. Right arm, left leg lift higher, then switch. Left arm and right leg lift higher. Continue to switch and chest lifted up and back of neck long. Face and eyes looking down. Inhale 2 counts, exhale 2 counts, coordinate with lifting limbs. Inhale twice (right, left) exhale twice (right, left). Repeat 8x.

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Swim Stretch

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on stomach, arms straight overhead, shoulder width apart, legs straight slightly apart and turned out. Lift chest, head, arms and legs off floor, head stays lined up with upper back, chest and head lift at the same time, contract upper back muscles to lift while pressing hips and pubic bone into floor, do not bend at low back. Lower chest, head, arms, and legs down to floor. Stretch entire body in it’s length, before lifting up to keep space between vertebra. Keep length while lifting up and lowering down to mat. Keep shoulders wide pulled away from ears, goal is to increase flexibility in upper spine while lower spine and pelvis are supported. Repeat 6x.

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Teaser

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Lie on back, neutral spine, arms overhead, legs together. Bring arms up to ceiling at the same time roll torso up one vertebra at a time and lift legs. The pelvis should become tilted so that the legs can safely lift while the torso is rolling up. The arms become parallel to legs, the torso a nd legs create a “v” shape. Hold position and do small leg lifts 8x. Roll torso back down one vertebra at a time, at the same time lowering legs down to floor, arms out to sides. Repeat 4x.

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Thigh Lift

Purpose
To learn how to stabilize the pelvis as you lift a leg. This principle is important in all Pilates mat exercises with the use of the legs.

To Start:

1. Lie on the back with parallel legs bent and feet on the floor. The spine is in neutral. Place the hands on the femoral folds. This is where the hinge of the thigh and the hip connect.
2. Inhale and feel the width of the sacrum and back ribcage.
3. Exhale and hollow. Imagine the hollow energizes the spine into a new connection of the head-tail.

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The Movement:

  1. Inhale and breathe wide into the back body.
  2. Exhale to deflate the abdominals in and lift the bent right leg. The hands are feeling the softening of the femoral fold.
  3. Inhale and lower the right thigh back to its original position.
  4. Exhale with a hollow and lift the bent left thigh up to 90 degrees. The pelvis should remain in neutral.
  5. Repeat 3 more sets.
  6. Advance, hollow and lift both bent legs up.
  7. Repeat 3 more times.

Observation
Was the pelvis quiet during the thigh lift? If the back muscles engaged, you must learn to deepen the hollow and maintain it before and during the leg lift.

 

Torso Lift

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In neutral lie on back, legs table top, 90 degree angle, arms straight up to ceiling. Lift head and shoulders off mat only as far as shoulder blades barely touch mat. Arms lower to mat, at same time straighten legs to ceiling. Engage pelvic floor muscles. Try not to flatten low back completely, keep a tiny space under it, keeping the lower abs in will stabilize this area. Squeeze arm pit muscles (like you are holding a small ball in armpit). Lower chest/head down to mat and bend knees, arms go back up to ceiling. Inhale to prepare, exhale to lift chest with head and lifting legs. Inhale lowering back to floor. Repeat 8x.

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Twist

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
Sit on right side, legs bent, right hand supporting torso, left foot in front of right foot. Lift up till body and legs are in straight line, left arm out to side. Hold for 2 seconds. Reach left hand toward right hip, pushing hips to ceiling, chest to knees. Do this by pushing with right arm. Keep sides of feet on the mat. Untwist to side position (hips still off floor) then lower hips down to mat bending knees at the same time. Support arm will always be straight. Inhale to prepare, exhale lift, inhale twist under and return, exhale to lower down. Repeat 4x. Switch to other side. Support with left arm to lift, reach right hand through to left hip, pushing hips up. Untwist to straight body line then lower down with bent knees. Repeat 4x. Strive to lift out of supporting shoulder (not sinking into it), shoulder blade should not poke out in back.

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Two Hundreds

Pilates Exercise Instructions:
In neutral lie on back, legs table top, 90 degree angle, lift head and shoulders off mat only as far as shoulder blades barely touch mat. Engage pelvic floor muscles. Try not to flatten low back completely, keep a tiny space under it, keeping the lower abs in will stabilize this area. Straighten both legs up and away from chest,arms at sides, palms down, squeeze arm pit muscles (like you are holding a small ball in armpit and don’t want it to drop) pump straight arms up and down, very low to floor. For 5 pumps breathe in 5x, for 5 pumps breathe out 5x continue for 20 sets. Pumping must coordinate with inhales and exhales.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Thanks for the great post! The fact that mat Pilates can be easily practiced at home with minimal equipment is a real plus but a high quality mat is an essential piece of equipment that will greatly increase the quality, enjoyment, comfort and results of your practice.

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