Tone Your Arms and Sculpt Your Abs With This 20-Minute Pilates Workout

There's a certain amount of glamour found in every Pilates studio. After all, the equipment is nothing short of fascinating and the exercises, while visually graceful, are grueling in the best way.

This 20-minute workout will fire up the whole body.
Image Credit: svetikd/E+/GettyImages

Although exercising in a studio can be fun, you don't need elaborate equipment or amenities to get a good Pilates workout. Thanks to Heather Dorak, founder of Pilates Platinum, all you need is a mat to fire up your arms and abs with this at-home Pilates workout.

Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.

Move 1:  Arm Series

  1. Begin standing with your legs at hip-width apart, core braced and back flat.
  2. Raise your arms up into a T, straight out at shoulder height. Between each variation, return to this position without letting your hands drop until the series is over.
  3. Begin circling your arms clockwise, drawing a grapefruit-sized circle for a minute.
  4. Then, repeat the same motion counter-clockwise for a minute. Come back to the T position.
  5. For the next minute, arch your arms toward your body, as if you're hugging a tree, then come back to a T. Alternate back and forth.
  6. Flip your palms up. Then, flip them face down. Alternate here for a minute.
  7. Starting in the T, pulse your arms up toward the ceiling (pinky fingers first) for a minute.
  8. Then, rest for 2 minutes.

Reps: 1 set total

Move 2:  Standing Roll-Down

  1. Start standing with your feet parallel and hip-width apart.
  2. Inhale and exhale, extending your arms up overhead, reaching through your upper back.
  3. Again, inhale and exhale and slowly roll down toward the floor, rounding your back one vertebra at a time.
  4. As you roll the torso toward the floor, hinge your hips back as if sitting into a chair.
  5. Once you've lowered as far as you can, roll back up one vertebra at a time.

Reps: 1 repetition, which should take about a minute

Move 3: Core Plank Series

  1. Begin in a high plank with your hands in line with your shoulders, a straight line from head to hips to heels. Hold here for 15 seconds.
  2. Bring your right knee to your left elbow and hold for 15 seconds.
  3. Bring your left knee to right elbow, holding for 15 more seconds.
  4. Return to the plank position and hold for 15 seconds.
  5. Then, release and shift into a Child's pose, bringing your knees to the ground, extending your arms straight out in front of you and bringing your chest onto your thighs.
  6. Come into a 15-second forearm plank hold, keeping your elbows in line with your shoulders.
  7. Keeping knees off the ground, open up your body to the right and shift onto your left side, stacking your legs. Hold this left side plank for 30 seconds, then switch to a right side plank for 30 seconds.
  8. Come back to your forearm plank for 15 more seconds, then rest.

Reps: 2 sets of the entire series

Tip

Take quick pauses throughout this series as needed. Pilates exercises are excellent for strengthening the core but need to be done with proper form for maximum benefit.

Move 4: Roll Up

  1. Begin lying face-up on the ground with your arms extended up over your head.
  2. Engage your core and lift your head, raising your arms toward the ceiling to roll up to a seated position.
  3. Then, reach your arms forward toward your toes, while drawing your waist back, keeping the feet rooted into the ground.
  4. Slowly roll down toward the floor until you're back at the starting position.

Reps: repeat for 1 minute

Move 5: Double Leg Stretch

  1. Start lying face up from the previous position.
  2. Rise your shoulders off the ground slightly and engage your core to support your lower back.
  3. Extend your arms up by your ears and simultaneously raise your legs from a 45-degree angle from the floor. This hollow-hold is the starting position.
  4. Next, sweep your arms down hug your knees into your chest.
  5. Pause here for a moment, then sweep your arms back overhead and return to the start position.

Reps: repeat for 1 minute

Tip

Throughout this exercise, keep your lower back rooted into the ground. If holding the hollow hold position is too challenging, you can bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, shins parallel to the floor, and rest your head on the ground, Dorak says.

Move 6: Scissors

  1. Start at the end position of the last exercise, lying on the ground facing the ceiling.
  2. Raise your head and shoulders slightly off the ground and hover your left leg an inch above the mat.
  3. Point your left toes to engage your quad muscle.
  4. Keeping the left leg engaged, extend your right leg toward the ceiling and take hold of your right ankle with your hands.
  5. Use your abs and leg muscles to pull your right leg toward the forehead gently.
  6. Then, switch legs and send the right leg hovering just above the ground, raising and pulling the right leg to the forehead.
  7. Alternate between left and right leg, keeping the core engaged.
  8. After you complete the reps, return to lying on the ground, facing the ceiling.

Reps: repeat for 1 minute

Tip

The goal is to maintain stability throughout this exercise. To make the move easier, you can keep a soft bend in your knees and perform the move with your head on the mat, Dorak says.

Move 7: Side Teaser

  1. Shift onto your right side, supporting your body with your right hand.
  2. Engage your core and rotate your hips slightly toward the ceiling.
  3. Lift your legs as high as possible from the floor, engaging your left obliques.
  4. Gently bring the legs back down.

Reps: repeat for 1 minute on each side

Move 8: The Hundred

  1. Lie face up with your arms at your sides. Extend your legs fully across the floor.
  2. Curl your head, neck and shoulders up off the mat, keeping the lower back on the mat.
  3. Extend your arms straight out in front of your shoulders.
  4. Raise your legs slightly, hovering just above the mat.
  5. Begin pumping the arms up and down, breathing in for five counts, exhaling for five counts. This is one breath cycle.
  6. Continue pumping the arms and take quick pauses as needed.

Reps: repeat for 10 total breath cycles

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