These exercises are at the Pilates core workouts and techniques. Each balances stretching with strengthening; many offer an “as you get stronger” variation. It’s fine to challenge yourself but don’t exceed your comfortable range of movement.

In Pilates workouts; Lacking lower back and hamstring flexibility and/or core strength might require you to modify this exercise by bending your knees.
The addition of the Magic Circle can assist you with the proper shoulder alignment required to perform these exercise while giving your core muscles the feedback to fire up properly:

The Hundred

As you move your legs, brace your center to keep firm support. Keep both hips level as you lift your leg.

The Hundred; One of Main Pilates Core Workouts

The Hundred; One of Main Pilates Core Workouts

CAUTION! Remain focused on keeping your body in the neutral position. Check that the size of the arch in your lower back has not increased or decreased as you lift and lower your leg.

  • reps: 10 times each side
  • visual cue: steep slope
  • emphasis: abdominal strength
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, comfortably close to your butt. Find the neutral position and, with your arms by your side, draw the shoulders back and down. Imagine that there is an orange between your chin and chest, and try to lengthen through the back of the neck.
  2. As you breathe out, lift the left leg to form a right angle, checking that the knee comes directly above the hip and that the foot is in line with the knee. Hold this position for five breaths, keeping your hips braced. On the fifth outbreath, lower the leg to the start position. On the next outbreath, lift the other leg and repeat the movement.

As You Get Stronger

  1. To challenge yourself further, lift your leg off the floor while at the same time lengthening it. Because the weight of the leg has been increased, you will need to focus on maintaining your neutral position. If you lose the position, lower the level.
  2. Once you master the above level, try the hundred with both legs lifted. Lift one leg as in stage 2 above, and imprint your lower spine into the mat. Lift the second leg, and allow the spine to return to neutral. Hold for five breaths, focusing on not letting the ab muscles dome or the lower spine come out of neutral. On the last breath, lower one leg at a time, and return to the starting position.

Swimming

Imagine you have a piece of paper passing under your abs. Try not to touch it with your stomach. Find how high you can move without letting your abs touch the mat

  • reps: 10 times
  • visual cue: diagonal switch
  • emphasis: strength
  1. Lying face down, stretch the top of your head forward and slide your shoulders down your back. Stretch your legs behind you, keeping them hip-width apart, and contract your abs to lift your navel off the floor. This is the position you must try to maintain throughout the movement. Isolate the upper body by keeping both legs down. Breathe out as you lift your head and right arm up and away from the floor. Breathe in as you lower your arm and then change to the left. Your goal is to keep your navel off the mat.
  2. Isolate the lower body by putting your head on your arms in front of you. Slide your shoulders down your back. Breathe out as you lift the right leg away from you. Tighten the stomach and lift off the floor. Lower the right leg and change to the left.

As You Get Stronger

  1. Lying face down, stretch the top of your head forward and slide your shoulders down your back. Stretch your legs behind you, keeping them hip-width apart, and contract your abs to lift your navel off the floor.
  2. Breathe out as you lift your left leg and right arm up and away from you. Lift your limbs as high as you can without touching the mat with your navel. Feel your muscles lengthening along the floor before you lift. Do not struggle to lift too high because the lengthening is more important.
  3. Breathing in, lower the limbs to change to the other side. Your little finger and little toe should be on the same diagonal line in space. Keep the movement slow and controlled. The speed of the movement should stay the same on both the lifting and the lowering of your limbs.

Push-up

Focus on this as a long, continuous single movement.

CAUTION! Soften or bend the knees if necessary: if your hamstrings or lower spine are tight, soften these areas more before you start.

  • reps: 5-10 times
  • visual cue: snail on wall
  • emphasis: strength
  1. Stand tall in the neutral position with feet hip-width apart and shoulders drawn back and down. Imagine your eyes are looking over the horizon, and take a breath in to prepare for the movement.
  2. As you breathe out, begin to roll your head and spine downward, starting from the neck. Imagine each vertebra is in a chain that is moving link by link. Allow the weight of your arms to carry you forward.
  3. As you reach toward the floor, breathe in and bend your knees to enable your hands to touch the floor. As you breathe out, walk your hands along the floor until they are directly below the shoulders with your back level; keep your butt in line with your shoulders.
  4. Slowly lower your knees onto the mat without causing any impact to your knee joints. Now walk your hands forward two paces. Realign the shoulders over the hands to create a slope from the hips to the knees. Keep this alignment as you do the push-up. Work back slowly through the positions until you come back to the standing position.

As You Get Stronger

  1. Follow stages 1 to 3. Your hands should be directly under the shoulders, your shoulders drawn back and down away from the ears, your neck relaxed, and your eyes looking toward the floor.
  2. Keeping the neutral alignment, breathe in and lower your body. Draw the shoulders back and down, trying to keep the back in neutral and your butt in line with your shoulders. Go as low as you can without losing the correct body alignment. Work back slowly through the positions until you are back to standing.

Rolling Back

Be patient and gentle with your spine until you feel that rolling becomes natural and you can return to the seated position with ease.

Rolling Back; One of Pilates Core Workouts!

Rolling Back; One of Pilates Core Workouts!

  • reps: 10 times
  • visual cue: hedgehog
  • emphasis: mobility
  1. Sitting tall, lift from your center, imagining a taut string connecting the crown of your head to the ceiling. Bend your legs and place your feet together, flat on the floor. Use your hands as supports with palms down, close behind you. Pull in your stomach muscles.
  2. Breathe in as you tilt your pelvis and gently roll back. Use your arms to support your weight as much as needed while, on the out-breath, you roll up again. Be sure to keep your abs contracted.

As You Get Stronger

  1. Place your hands on your shins and pull in your stomach muscles.
  2. Taking a slow breath in, curl your pelvis and start the roll, with your chin near your chest and spine curled.
  3. Gently roll back only as far as your shoulders. As you roll back up, with abs still contracted, begin to breathe out slowly. Complete the breath as you return to the seated position and lengthen your spine to the ceiling. Aim to make the roll as smooth as possible.

Roll-up

Imagine that your spine is a chain or a system of links: each area of the spine should work independently as you work through the movement to create a smooth, chain-like movement.

CAUTION! Keep your feet on the floor, and avoid spurts of speed as you roll up: the move should be smooth and continuous.

  • reps: 5-10 times
  • visual cue: the morning sun rising
  • emphasis: abdominal strength
  1. Lie on your back with your legs straight and your arms stretched over your head. Draw your shoulder blades back o and down.
  2. As you breathe out, begin to peel your head and shoulders off the floor, and slowly lift your arms toward the ceiling as you come up.
  3. Continue to roll forward slowly, peeling your spine off the floor vertebra by vertebra. Roll through the pelvis until you reach a sitting position.
  4. Breathe in as you lengthen out over your legs, stretching your arms toward your toes as far as you feel comfortable. As you breathe out, reverse the move and slowly lower your body back onto the mat: begin by rolling through the pelvis, then roll down vertebra by vertebra.

Swan Dive

As you breathe in, lower your body back down to the floor. Allow the speed of your breath to control the speed of the movement, which should be continuous.

  • reps: 5-10 times
  • visual cue: lying on thin ice
  • emphasis: spine mobility
  1. Lie on your front and open your arms out on the floor, aligning your elbows with your shoulders. Make half a rectangle shape with your arms and draw your shoulders back and down. Keep your eyes looking down and your neck in line with your spine. Breathe in to prepare, and as you breathe out, float your chest away from the floor. The move should be small, so try not to focus on lifting the whole chest. Your elbows and hands should stay in contact with the floor: use them to push gently into the floor as you lift, but focus on lifting with the muscles in your back rather than those in your arms.

Modification With Ball

Kneel in front of a large ball, and curve your body over it. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows out wide and create a “tabletop” with your back and neck, not letting your head drop over the ball. As you breathe out, lengthen and lift your chest away from the ball, not allowing the ball to move underneath you. Remember that the movement should be small and controlled.

As You Get Stronger

Try to relax your glute muscles (butt). If you clench them, they will help to stabilize you as you lift. The focus should come from your abdominals and back instead.

  1. Starting from the lying position, place your arms by your sides with the palms touching your sides. Draw your shoulder blades back and down.
  2. 2Breathing out slowly, float your chest away from the floor. As you breathe in, lower it again. Lift with the muscles of the back in the thoracic area. As you lift, lengthen the muscles in the lower part of the spine. If the muscles in the lower back are tightening or pinching, then relax down and rest, or return to the variation using your arms.

Hip Circles

Aim to keep the spine in neutral while doing this movement. Also try to keep the distance equal between the knees and chest as you rotate from side to side. The movement should be smooth and continuous.

  • reps: 5-10 times each side
  • visual cue: wheel
  • emphasis: strength
  1. Rest on your elbows, lifting your chest to the ceiling, and try to maintain a neutral spine. Bend your knees as you breathe in, and breathe out as you lengthen your legs.
  2. Swing your legs around to the left side, holding your position at the top of the movement. Repeat to the right side.

As You Get Stronger

  1. Sit tall in a balanced position with your feet comfortably close to your butt. Your hands should be out to the sides in a balancing position, and your feet and hands should only lightly touch the floor.
  2. As you breathe out, lift your legs straight up in front of you, then swing your hips to the right; as you breathe in, swing back to the center. On the next outbreath, swing to the left, and continue from side to side.

One-leg Circles

The main movement is the circling of the knee, but try also to focus on the top of the thigh circling within the hip joint as if it were drawing a smooth circle inside the joint. Don’t let the weight of the leg drop heavily into the hip joint, and try to keep the hips level and in the neutral position.

  • reps: 5-10 circies each way
  • visual cue: clock
  • emphasis: mobility
  1. Lie on your back, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor comfortably close to your butt. Find neutral, and with your arms by your side, draw the shoulders back and down. Imagine an orange between your chin and chest, and lengthen through the back of the neck.
  2. As you breathe out, lift the left leg to form a right angle: the knee should be directly above the hip and the foot should be in line with the knee. Keeping the left knee bent, draw a small circle on the ceiling with the knee, ensuring that it remains directly above the hips. As the knee comes in toward the center of the body, breathe in; as the knee travels away from the body, breathe out. Perform five circles in each direction, trying to increase the size of the circle slightly with each motion. Once you have drawn five circles in each direction, breathe out and slowly lower the leg to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg.

As You Get Stronger

This advanced movement opens up the hip joint, increasing mobility.

CAUTION! If your hips move, you are taking the rotation too wide. You may find that each side has a different range of mobility. Limit your movement to the range allowed by the least flexible hip and keep the leg motion smooth. This will eventually restore balance to both hips.

  1. Lie relaxed and flat on the mat with your arms at your sides and palms down. Pull in your abs. Pointing your toes, stretch the left leg to the ceiling as far as possible without straining. Maintain a neutral spine (page 37). Rotate the left leg clockwise, using the hip joint as the center of the clock face. Breathe in from 12 to 6 o’clock and breathe out from 6 to 12 o’clock.
  2. Repeat counterclockwise, breathing in from 6 to 12 o’clock and breathing out from 12 to 6 o’clock. Switch to your right leg and repeat.

Side Lifts

Progress through these moves over a period of sessions. Doing them all in one session will exhaust the areas of your body being worked.

CAUTION! Allow your body to lift itself to a position where it is challenged, but is not straining.

  • reps: 5-10 circies each side
  • visual cue: rocking
  • emphasis: leg and butt strength
  1. Lying on your right side, lengthen your legs, keeping your heels in line with your hips (if your feet are behind your hipline, you may feel lower back discomfort). Stack your shoulders, hips, knees, and feet on top of each other. Relax your head onto your lengthened right arm, and draw your right waistline away from the floor. Place your left hand on the floor just in front of you, and draw your shoulders back and down. As you breathe out, lift the top leg. Then, as you breathe in, lower the leg within an inch of the bottom leg, before raising it again on the next outbreath. To advance these moves, try to lift both legs on the outbreath and lower them on the inbreath. Keep the legs a few inches off the floor until you have completed the sequence. Then lower the legs to the floor.
  2. As a further challenge, take the front hand off the floor and stretch your arm along your side.

As You Get Stronger

  1. Once you have mastered the basic moves, try lifting the upper body on the outbreath at the same time as lifting the lower body. For extra stability, place the top hand in front of you.
  2. Now try to lift your upper body and lower body, lengthening the top arm over your head on the outbreath. As you breathe in, lower the head back to the bottom arm, the top arm back to your side, and the legs about an inch off the floor.

Shoulder Bridge

This movement is for opening and mobilizing the whole spine.

CAUTION! Do not force this movement. Be very gentle with your spine. If you know you have tightness in a certain area, then slow down as you pass through it. Concentrate on gently coaxing your muscles into becoming flexible.

  • reps: 10 times
  • visual cue: ski slope
  • emphasis: mobility
  1. Lie on your back with your arms by your side. Keep your arms beside you on the floor throughout this exercise. You may use them to help you stabilize, but avoid gripping the surface of the floor with them. Think of the top of your head pulling you to one end of the room and your tailbone stretching to the other. Breathe in to prepare, keeping your center strong.
  2. Breathe out and start rolling up toward the ceiling, leading with your tailbone, letting your vertebrae lift one by one from the mat. Lift your hips up, taking them to the height where your body forms a slope, no higher.
  3. At the top of the movement stretch your arms behind you and breathe in. As you breathe out start rolling down back to the mat as if laying a string of pearls on a piece of velvet. Visualize each vertebra as it touches the mat.

As You Get Stronger

  1. An advanced option is to add the leg and balance movement. Keeping your arms by your sides, slowly peel the spine up to the shoulder bridge position. Brace your hips, and on your next outbreath, unfold your right leg and lengthen it to the ceiling. Breathe in as you lower the leg to restabilize and breathe out to lower the spine back down to the floor. Repeat with the left leg.

The Seal

This rolling exercise is more advanced than the rolling back movement but also creates mobility and flexibility in the spine.

CAUTION! If you find this movement too difficult, return to the basic rolling back exercise in which you may use your arms to support yourself.

  • reps: 10 times
  • visual cue: rolling ball
  • emphasis: mobility
  1. Take a balanced position holding your legs lightly. Lift the top of your head to the ceiling and contract your abs.
  2. Breathe in as you roll back onto your shoulders. Stay in a tight ball. As you roll, imagine that you are imprinting your spine into the mat.
  3. Breathe out as you come back up and return the roll to the seated position. Use the muscles at your center to power yourself back into the balanced position.
  4. At the balanced position, lift the top of your head to the ceiling and gently pull your legs apart then push them back together in three beats. Check that your spine is as straight as possible.
  5. This beating of the feet adds to the balance period and also increases the strengthening element of the movement. Focus on your center and imagine it is initiating the pull. The strength for the balance position should also come from your center.