10 Essential Pilates Warm-Up Exercises

Hip rolls open up your hip flexors and chest as part of a Pilates warmup.
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A proper warmup before exercise makes your muscles and joints more mobile, gets your circulation going and improves your body's neuromuscular communication and control. Although a Pilates workout may seem less strenuous compared to running or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), it still asks a lot of your body, especially your core.


Granted, a Pilates warmup may look different from the one you'd use before a run or HIIT class. Before a Pilates session, focus your pre-workout efforts on your core, the deep layer of muscles from your hips to shoulders.

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Below, Miriam Shestack, CPT, a certified Pilates instructor, shares the best Pilates warm-up exercises.

1. Imprinting

Time 1 Min
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie on your back and bend your knees, planting your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Place your hands lightly on your ribs and allow your fingers to touch at your belly button.
  3. Inhale through the nose, allowing your rib cage to expand.
  4. Exhale through pursed lips and consciously draw the muscles in your lower spine down towards the floor, imprinting the spine into the ground.


In Pilates, you use intentional breaths to get more out of each exercise. It helps keep you relaxed and deliver oxygen most efficiently to your working muscles, according to the American Council on Exercise. Imprinting helps you get in tune with your breath and activate the muscles in your spine and core.

2. Spinal Twist

Reps 20
Activity Stretching
  1. Lay with your back flush against the mat, arms reaching out in a T shape, knees bent and feet planted.
  2. Exhale, draw your belly button in toward your spine and slowly lower your knees to the right side, keeping your feet in the same place and shoulders pressed into the floor.
  3. Inhale and bring your knees back to center.
  4. Exhale and repeat this motion on the opposite side, lowering your knees to the left.
  5. Perform 10 to 20 reps, alternating slowly between each side.

3. Spinal Rotation

Reps 4
Activity Stretching
  1. Assume the position for spinal twists, but let your knees stay fallen to the right side.
  2. Inhale and then, as you exhale, sweep your left arm above your head, bringing it down to touch your right hand. (You'll feel as though you're closing like a clam shell.)
  3. Allow your left shoulder to peel up off the floor.
  4. Inhale and return to the starting position
  5. Repeat this for 4 reps and then switch sides.

4. Hip Release

Reps 4
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted on the ground.
  2. Inhale as you drop the right knee out to the side, making half of a butterfly wing.
  3. Exhale and lengthen your right leg long onto the mat.
  4. Inhale, keeping your leg on the mat and point your right toes to the ceiling.
  5. Exhale and drag your right leg back to a bent knee, foot flat.
  6. That's one rep. Do this motion for 4 reps.
  7. Repeat on the opposite side.

5. Hip Roll

Reps 5
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted about hip-width distance apart.
  2. Inhale and fill your body with your breath, then exhale and imprint your spine into the mat.
  3. Inhale and begin to roll your spine up off the floor starting at your tailbone. Move one vertebra at a time until you form a bridge from your shoulders to your hips, moving up onto your toes.
  4. Exhale and slowly, intentionally roll each vertebra back down.
  5. Repeat five times.

6. Cat Stretch

Reps 5
Activity Stretching
  1. Start on all fours with your back in a neutral position.
  2. Exhale and arch your spine up toward the ceiling, pulling your belly button in toward your spine, pressing the ground away.
  3. Inhale and hold the stretch, trying to expand even further as you tuck your chin and round your tailbone.
  4. Exhale back to the neutral back position.
  5. Repeat five times.

7. Cobra

Reps 5
Activity Stretching
  1. Lay belly-down on your mat.
  2. Place your hands under your shoulders, allowing your elbows to point up toward the ceiling. Keep your arms close to your ribs.
  3. Inhale and slowly peel your face and chest up off the mat, looking ahead of you.
  4. Exhale and lower back down.


The cobra stretches your chest and fronts of the shoulders, as well as wakes up the lumbar spine. As you move through this exercise, consciously keep your hands light, and use your back to lengthen and lift.

8. Head Nod

Reps 5
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted at hip-width distance.
  2. Relax your back so you're neither arching, nor imprinting, keeping it neutral. Let your arms rest alongside your hips on the mat.
  3. Inhale and reach your head back to lengthen the back of your neck; your chin will tuck slightly.
  4. Exhale and return to the neutral starting position. The movement is very slight, but brings awareness to the small muscles in the back of the neck.

9. Shoulder Shrug

Reps 5
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted at hip-distance apart. Keep your head and back neutral as you elevate your shoulders up toward your ears with an inhale.
  2. Exhale and let your shoulders release.


As you do this exercise, avoid rounding your shoulders. Focus on lifting them up and down only.

10. Arm Circle

Reps 5
Activity Stretching
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet planted at hip-width distance.
  2. Inhale and reach your arms up over your chest, then overhead past your ears.
  3. Exhale and sweep your arms alongside your hips and around in a circle.
  4. Repeat three to five times.
  5. Reverse the direction, circling out to the sides and overhead first.



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