Top 10 Pilates Exercises

Pilates is a popular workout program that focuses on strengthening and stretching most of the major muscles of the body. It combines elements of gymnastics, yoga, and physical therapy techniques to deliver a well-rounded workout. The most popular Pilates exercises are either done on a fitness mat or a machine called a reformer.

Pilates is a mix of stretching and strengthening exercises. (Image: Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images)

These exercises are some of the most popular and traditionally used Pilates exercises and focus on various muscles such as the abdominals, lower back, shoulders and hips. Most of them are simple enough that a beginner can do them, so even if you've never done Pilates before, give them a shot!

Hundreds

The name of this exercise says it all - the goal is to do this exercise continuously for 100 rounds of breathing.

Hundreds have a reputation for making your abs burn. (Image: photoposter/iStock/Getty Images)

How To: Lie on your back on a mat. Raise your legs up with your knees straight and curl your shoulders and head up off of the mat. Extend your arms straight forwards, next to your torso. Lightly pulse them up and down while you breathe in for five seconds and out for five seconds. Complete ten inhales and ten exhales, for a total of 100 seconds of breathing.

Bridge Roll-Up

This exercise helps coordinate the pelvic and lower back muscles, according to the American Council on Exercise.

How To: Lie on your back with your feet planted and knees bent. Exhale and tilt your pelvis backwards, pressing your lower back into the ground. Press through your heels and lift your back off of the ground, starting with your hips and rolling up to the neck one vertebrae at a time. Hold the top position and breathe for four seconds before slowly lowering to the ground.

Roll Up

You might do this exercise a lot during a Pilates class because it's commonly used as a transition between different exercises, according to Future Fit Training.

How To: Lie on your back with your feet planted and knees bent. Reach your arms straight out towards your feet. Exhale and reach your arms forwards and roll your head and shoulders up off of the mat with your abs. Slowly roll back down and inhale.

Swimming

This is a mat Pilates exercise that strengthens your back muscles, glutes and hamstrings.

How To: Lie on your stomach with your arms straight overhead and legs straight. Inhale and lift your arms, head, chest and legs off of the mat. Your stomach and hips should be the only thing left on the mat. Exhale and lower your left arm and right leg to tap the floor, then bring them back up and repeat on the other side.

Seal

Gently massage your spine with this mat exercise.

How To: Sit on your mat with your knees bent. Grab the outside of your heels by reaching past the inside of your knees and around the outside of your foot. Your spine should be slightly flexed. Hold onto your feet, keep your back rounded, and rock back, rolling up your spine to your neck, then rock back to the start position.

Sliding Lunge

This reformer exercise is a challenging variation of the traditional lunge that works your hamstrings and glutes. You can also use a towel or slider to replace the reformer.

How To: On the reformer, put your back foot on the footbar and your front foot on the carriage. Reach your arms in front of you and let your shoulders drop. Slide the foot on the slider or reformer forwards and bend both knees, dropping towards the ground. When your knees are bent at 90-degree angles, slide back up to the start position.

Stomach Massage

Give your stomach a gentle massage in this reformer exercise.

How To: Sit on the reformer with your forefoot on the bar. Slightly flex your back into a "C" shape and bend your knees until they are close to your chest, the press your legs into the bar to return to the start position.

Leg Circle

Strengthen the muscles of your hip with this basic mat exercise.

How To: Lie on your back and raise one leg up towards the ceiling, keeping it as straight as possible. Point your toes up toward the ceiling. Inhale and reach the leg across your body and down, drawing half a circle in the air. Then, exhale and reach that leg up and swing it away from your body, completing the circle. Then, switch directions.

Double Leg Stretch

This mat exercise is partially a stretch and partially a core exercise.

How To: Lie face-up on your mat with your lower back pressed into the mat. Grab your knees into your chest and lift your head and shoulders off of the mat. Extend your legs up at a forty-five-degree angle and, at the same time, reach your arms up and back. Then tuck your knees back into your chest and circle your arms back to grab your shins.

Criss Cross

This is an excellent ab exercise, eliciting 310 percent more activation from your obliques than a traditional crunch, according to IDEA Health and Fitness Association.

How To: Lie on your back with your fingers laced behind your head. Your legs should be in the air and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Lift your shoulders and head off of the mat. Twist your torso to the right and bring your left elbow and right knee together as you extend your left leg. Then turn your torso to the left, try to touch your right elbow and left knee together, and extend your right leg.

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