15 Pilates Exercises For Beginners

15 Pilates Exercises For Beginners

If you’re intrigued by Pilates, but aren’t quite sure where to start, try working your way down this list of 15 classic Pilates exercises that are suitable for beginners. These moves are also a great way to practice Pilates outside of the studio, because let’s face it…sometimes you just can’t make it out of your house!

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15 Beginner Pilates Exercises

1. Side Leg Lifts
Pilates Exercises - Side Leg Lift

  • Lie on your right side with your shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles in one straight line, and your head resting on your right arm. (If you feel unstable, bend the knee of your lower leg slightly, for more of an anchor.)
  • Engage your abs, then slowly lift your right leg as you inhale (try not to go past a 45-degree angle). Keep your leg internally rotated (toes facing forward) as you lift it.
  • Exhale as you lower your leg.
  • Repeat until all reps are complete, then switch sides, performing equal reps on both sides.

2. Leg Circles

  • Lie on your back with your legs out straight in front of you, and your arms stretched out by your sides. Engage your core, keeping your lower back pressed into the floor (keep pressing it down throughout the exercise).
  • Inhale as you lift your right leg straight up with your toes pointing toward the ceiling.
  • Move your right leg in large, controlled, clockwise circles, exhaling as you take your leg down and around. Reverse the direction of the circles for the same number of reps.
  • Lower your right leg and repeat equal reps with your left leg.

 

3. Pilates Hundred

  • Lie on your back with your legs extended in the air. Lower them to a 45-degree angle (or make it easier by bending your legs to 90-degree angle). Extend your arms straight by your sides, slightly off the floor. Engage your core so your lower back is pressed into the ground.
  • Inhale to engage your abdominals and lift shoulder blades and head off the ground. Begin pumping your arms up and down in a small motion, as you inhale for 5 counts and exhale for 5 counts.
  • Continue with sets of 10 counts, until you reach 100.

 

4. Single-Leg Stretch

  • Lie on your back and bring both knees to your chest. Engage your abs to lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat, while pressing your lower back into the floor. Wrap your hands lightly around the outside of your thighs, just above the knees.
  • Inhale, and reach your right leg out straight, so it hovers just a few inches above the floor. Keep your lower back pressing into the floor. If it comes up, don’t lower your leg as far down. Your hands can be lightly touching your left shin.
  • Exhale, and switch legs, bending your right leg in to the tucked position, and stretching your left leg out straight so it hovers just a few inches above the floor. Your hands can be lightly touching your right shin.
  • Continue alternating until all reps are complete.

 

5. Double Leg Stretch

  • Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Engage your abs to lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the mat, while pressing your lower back into the floor. Wrap your hands lightly around the outside of your thighs, just above the knees.
  • Inhale, and reach both of your arms overhead at the same time you extend both legs out straight, just a few inches above the floor. Keep your lower back pressing into the floor. If it comes up, don’t lower your legs as far down.
  • Exhale, and sweep your arms back around as your knees return to your chest.
  • Repeat until all reps are complete.

 

6. Criss Cross

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent at 90-degrees (shins parallel to the ground). Gently place your finger tips behind your head with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Engage your core, keeping your lower back pressed into the floor, and lift your shoulder blades off the floor.
  • Exhale as you twist your upper body to the right, extending your left leg straight out, and bringing your left elbow to your right knee.
  • Come back to the center as you inhale.
  • Exhale again, twisting your upper body to the left, as your right leg extends, bringing your right elbow to your left knee
  • Continue alternating until all reps are complete.

 

7. Scissor Kick

flutter kicks exercise - woman

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and your arms at your sides.
  • Engage your core and press your head, shoulders, and lower back into the floor as you raise both legs about 12 inches off of it.
  • Keep both legs straight as you alternately lift each foot in a fluttering motion.
  • Complete an equal number of reps with each leg.

 

8. Teaser

  • Lay on your back with your core engaged and lower back pressed into the ground. Bend your legs so your feet are flat on the ground, about hip distance apart.
  • Lift one leg up and extend it out at a 45-degree angle. Reach your arms straight up to the ceiling.
  • Inhale as you lift your torso up, reaching your arms toward your toes, creating a “V” shape with your body.
  • Hold this position for 5 breaths, then slowly roll back down as you exhale.
  • Do all reps on one side, and then legs, performing equal reps on both sides.

 

9. Tik Tok (Pendulum)

  • Lay on your back and prop yourself up on your forearms, elbows under your shoulders, palms flat on the ground.
  • Extend your legs out straight to 45 degrees. Keeping your core engaged, slowly rock onto your right hip, lowering your legs slightly to the right. Keep your shoulders square, facing forward.
  • Come back to center, and then repeat on the left side.
  • Continue alternating sides, performing equal reps on both sides.

 

10. Plank Leg Lift

pilates exercises- plank leg raise

  • Start in a side plank on your left side: left forearm on the floor, shoulders stacked over your elbow, feet stacked, and your body straight from head to heels. Lift your right arm up toward the ceiling.
  • Lift your right leg as high as you can, then bring it slightly forward to tap the floor in front of you.
  • Reverse the movement, by lifting your leg up, then bringing it slightly behind you to tap the floor just behind you.
  • Continue alternating the taps in front and behind, then switch sides. Keep your core tight to avoid any twisting.
  • Switch sides, performing equal reps on both legs.

 

11. Plank Rock (Plank Relevé)

  • Start in high plank position: arms straight, shoulders stacked over your wrists, straight line from your head to heels, core engaged.
  • Shift your body forward a couple of inches, so your shoulders move slightly past your wrists. Then, shift your body a couple of inches backwards, so your shoulders move slightly behind your wrists.
  • Keep your core, glutes, and quads engaged to maintain a straight line from your head to heels the whole time.
  • Continue moving forward and back slowly until you’ve completed all your reps.

 

12. Plank Mountain Climber

  • Start in high plank position: arms straight, shoulders stacked over your wrists, straight line from your head to heels, core engaged.
  • Lift your right foot off the floor and slowly bring your right knee toward your chest as you inhale, keeping your back flat and your hips down.
  • Return your right foot to your starting plank position as you exhale, then repeat with the left leg.
  • Continue alternating your legs, performing equal reps on both sides. Make sure you maintain a proper position the entire time.

 

13. Hip Dip

Pilates exercises-hip dip

  • Lie on your right side propped up on your right forearm, with your shoulders stacked over your elbow and your feet stacked on top of each other. Lift your hips until your body makes a straight line from head to heels. Place your left hand on your hip.
  • Slowly lower your right hip, gently tapping it on the floor.
  • Reverse the move, returning to starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are complete, then switch sides, performing equal reps on each.

 

14. Double Leg Kick

pilates leg kick

  • Lie on your stomach with your legs together, extended straight behind you. Lift your torso up and place your forearms on the mat in front of your chest, with your hands together. Engage your core and press your pelvis down into the floor.
  • As you inhale, point your toes and bend your legs, kicking them toward your glutes. Do a slight pulse away from your glutes, then squeeze them back in for a second kick. That’s one rep.
  • Inhale as you lower your legs down.
  • Repeat until all reps are complete.

 

15. Double Leg Lift

double-leg-lift-gif

  • Lie on your back and extend your legs up to the ceiling with your toes pointed and heels together. Place your hands behind your head and keep your elbows wide. Engage your abs to press your lower back into the floor. Lift your chest up to bring your shoulders off the floor.
  • Inhale and lower your legs down with control. Only lower your legs as far as you’re able to without letting your lower back lift off the floor, or your abdomen popping up.
  • Once you’ve reached your end range of motion, exhale and lift your legs back to starting position with control. Repeat for all reps in the set.
  • Throughout the whole move, meep your elbows wide and your lower back pressed into the floor. Avoid craning your neck; the curl of your upper body should come more from your ribs than from jutting the head forward.
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Benefits of Pilates Exercises

Pilates is known for promoting a lean, muscular physique. By consistently practicing this form of exercise, you can expect to change the shape and tone of your body and build a strong core, says Kara Tatelbaum, a certified Pilates instructor.

Similarly to yoga and barre classes, Pilates targets the transverse abdominis, or the deepest layer of your abs, explains Tatelbaum. Once you start working on your core, Pilates benefits may include “the aesthetic benefit of a flatter stomach and slimmer waist, but also a healthier spine, improved posture, mindful breathing, elimination of lower back pain, and increased flexibility.”

And, while Pilates alone might not lead to weight loss, she says you’ll definitely see and feel the results of a regular practice.

pilates exercises pin

Stepfanie Romine

About

Stepfanie Romine is a yoga teacher (RYT 500), ACE-certified health coach and fitness nutrition specialist who writes about natural health, plant-based cooking and yoga. A runner and hiker based in Asheville, N.C., her books include The No Meat Athlete Cookbook and Cooking with Healing Mushrooms. Follow her on Twitter.

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