The Best Arm-Toning Pilates Exercises

For these mat-based exercises, reach for light weights between two and five pounds.
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Take it to the mat — with or without light weights — and carve out some arm muscles. Pilates is a perfect, all-around body workout that promises to tone your body and improve your posture.


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One of the benefits of Pilates is that there are certain exercises and series that are meant to really target certain areas of the body. If sleek arms are your goal, tap into the Pilates arm series below from certified Pilates instructor Ashley Adams. You can do it holding lightweight dumbbells — or go without — depending on your level of fitness.


"I love incorporating these exercises at the end of a mat session to deepen the mind-body connection and awareness," says Adams. "This series is a great opportunity to learn proper shoulder positioning and good posture."

Begin with three sets of the top three moves — in order, without rest — if you're in a rush, resting 30 seconds between each set. "These have become my go-to moves," says Adams. "You can get great benefits in a short period of time."


When you're ready for a bigger challenge, add in the final three exercises for a complete series. Adams suggests doing these in front of a mirror, as a visual reminder to stand tall and maintain proper body alignment.

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Shaving the Head

  1. Begin in a standing position with your legs firmly pressed together and toes turned out.
  2. Place your hands behind your head, forming a triangle with elbows.
  3. As you inhale, press your hands overhead, straightening out your elbows and pressing up and away from the body.
  4. As you exhale, bring your hands back to their starting point behind your head.
  5. Do five to eight reps.


Adams says that once you have mastered the mat version, you can dial it up a notch by taking it to the reformer. "On the reformer you are in a sitting position using straps, but still focused on engaging the core and maintaining both shoulder stabilization and good posture," she says.

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Arm Circles

  1. Stand with your legs pressed together and toes turned out, letting your arms hang long in front of you.
  2. Make small, controlled clockwise circles with your fists while raising your arms up toward the ceiling.
  3. Reverse the direction of the circles as you slowly lower your arms back to start for one rep.
  4. Do five to eight reps.

"These small movements pack a punch," says Adams. "You're not only only stretching and strengthening the arms, but also challenging the core engagement while working the muscles of the upper body."

Biceps Curl

  1. Stand with your legs pressed together and toes turned out.
  2. Extend your arms straight out in front of you with palms facing upward. If holding weights, make fists.
  3. Inhale and bend your elbows to curl your wrists and forearms toward your shoulders. Keep your upper arms parallel to the floor and keep your shoulders down.
  4. Exhale and extend your elbows, lengthening your arms back out.
  5. Do five to eight reps.


Taking a page from the boxing ring, this one leads to the rock-solid arms and core muscles. Grab a set of light weights in the range of two to five pounds — depending on your current ability — to use throughout.

  1. Start by standing with your feet hip-width distance and your legs slightly bent.
  2. Hinge forward slightly at the hips, bent elbows so that they're next to your ribs, hold fists by your shoulders. This is your starting position.
  3. Simultaneously extend one arm forward and upward and the other behind you and down.
  4. Return to start. Repeat on the opposite side. Do 16 total alternating reps.


Following the same stance as boxing, there's bug, which might remind you of a traditional chest fly move from the weight room.

  1. Start by standing with your feet hip-width distance, legs slightly bent, holding dumbbells with arms extended and palms facing in.
  2. Hinge forward slightly at the hip. This is your starting position. With a slight bend in the elbow, raise your arms up until they're at torso height.
  3. Slowly to start. Do 10 total reps.


  1. Stand with your legs pressed together firmly, toes turned out, holding weights in both hands. Palms are right below shoulder height facing forward, arms extended with a slight bend in the elbows.
  2. Slowly bring arms together until palms touch, then return to start.
  3. Do six to eight reps.