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The Best Arm-Toning Pilates Exercises

author image Henry Halse
Henry Halse is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer, speaker, and writer. He's trained a wide variety of people, from couch potatoes to professional athletes, and helped them realize their own strength, determination and self-confidence. Henry has also written for various fitness and lifestyle publications, including Women’s Health, AskMen and Prevention.
The Best Arm-Toning Pilates Exercises
You'll use lighter resistance but higher repetitions in a Pilates arm workout. Photo Credit igorkopakov/iStock/Getty Images

An arm workout in Pilates has a much different vibe from a traditional weightlifting workout. In Pilates, the focus isn't on lifting a heavy weight for a relatively low amount of repetitions, like eight to 12. Rather, Pilates uses relatively light weights, such as a 1 or 2-pound dumbbell, or light cable resistance from a reformer machine.

If you want to tone up your arms with a Pilates workout you'll be doing exercises that seem easy in the beginning, but then start to burn as you get past 20 or 30 repetitions. Some Pilates exercises even use 100 repetitions in one set.

The arm muscles that you'll work on in Pilates are your shoulder muscles, triceps and biceps. The biceps are the muscles on the top of your upper arm and the triceps are the muscles on the bottom of the upper arm. In an ideal arm workout you'll work all of these muscles to create a well-rounded physique.

Read More: The Ultimate Workout for Sexy, Sculpted Arms

Triceps Dips

Train your triceps with this dip variation. You might have seen triceps dips before on a workout bench or a Roman chair, but this Pilates variation requires no equipment.

How To: Sit on the floor or on a mat with your legs straight out in front of you. Plant your hands slightly behind and to the sides of your butt. Lift your hips off of the mat and keep your elbows straight. Your heels and hands should be the only parts of your body touching the ground. Bend your elbows to dip down until your butt touches the ground, then press back up until your elbows are straight.

Arm Circles

You can do this exercises either on a reformer for resistance or lying down on a mat as a warm-up. This exercise works the top and front of your shoulder muscles.

How To: Lie down, either on the reformer or on your mat, with your back flat on the ground, feet flat and knees bent. If you're on the reformer, make sure you're holding the handles to add resistance. Breathe in and lift your arms overhead. Then, bring them down to your sides. Keep your elbows straight the whole time. Raise your arms out to your sides and then back overhead, making a circle as you exhale. Try to keep your back flat the whole time.

Read More: Top 10 Most Effective Arm Exercises


You should use a reformer for this exercise to get the most out of it. You'll work your shoulders, biceps and chest muscles.

How To: Sit on the reformer, facing the footbar, with the handles in your hands. Start with your arms out wide, like you're about to hug someone. Your elbows should be slightly bent. Bring your hands together in front of you, then bring your arms out to the side again.

Pilates Push-Up

This push-up variation is more strict than a traditional push-up and most closely resembles a yoga push-up.This exercise works your triceps and the front of your shoulders.

For Pilates push-ups, keep your elbows close to your ribs.
For Pilates push-ups, keep your elbows close to your ribs. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

How To: Start at the top of a push-up position with your hands under your shoulders and elbows and knees straight. Bend your elbows and lower your body, keeping your elbows tucked so that they brush your ribs on the way down. Make sure that your hips don't drop below your body and that your shoulders don't shrug up. Go down as far as you can, then press back up, keeping your elbows close to your sides.

Bicep Curls

To make sure that you're hitting all areas of your arms, add in bicep curls to your workout.

Bicep curls will round out your Pilates arm workout.
Bicep curls will round out your Pilates arm workout. Photo Credit Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

How To: Use resistance cables for this biceps exercise. Either use the cables on your reformer and face towards the handles or use a resistance band while standing. Grab the handles with your elbows straight and hands pointing down towards the ground. Bend your elbows to bring your hands as close to your shoulders as possible and exhale. As you bring your arms back down, inhale through your nose.

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