Pilates Tips and Workouts for Beginners

Pilates Tips and Workouts for Beginners

I was never the type of person who liked exercise. High-intensity workouts like boot camps, kickboxing, and running — left me feeling exhausted and sore, and I never made it past two or three sessions before throwing in the towel.

Then I tried Pilates. I’d seen some of my favorite ripped celebrities raving about it, and it sounded like a perfect fit: a gentler workout that still produced results. That was seven years ago, and I still practice Pilates several times a week.

Want to find out if Pilates is the right workout for you? Here’s what you need to know.

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Is Pilates Good for Beginners?

Yes. “All Pilates work can be modified for all types of levels and bodies,” says Andrea Rogers, creator of the Xtend Barre workout on Openfit. “The Pilates mat exercises will emphasize core strength and help them build from the inside out.”

Pilates was literally designed to suit all skill levels — the creator, Joseph Pilates, developed his methodology while he was interned during World War I to help his fellow inmates stay healthy and strengthen their minds and bodies. (In fact, the Cadillac — an elaborate piece of Pilates equipment still used today — was inspired by a makeshift resistance machine he fashioned out of a hospital bed, straps, and springs.)

Pilates can improve posture, build overall strength, and help your weight loss efforts. And while Pilates has come a long way since its humble beginnings, one thing hasn’t changed: It’s still a great workout for beginners.

How Often Should I Do Pilates?

Is it okay to do Pilates every day? Yes! “That’s the beauty of Pilates,” Rogers says. “You can do it in some way every day, whether you’re on the mat or an apparatus like the Pilates reformer.”

That’s not to say you have to do Pilates every day to see results. One study found that doing an hour-long Pilates workout twice a week was enough to improve core strength and posture.

4 Great Pilates Moves for Beginners

So, you’ve decided to try Pilates. Awesome! These beginner-friendly moves can help you get started.

1. Pilates Hundred

“The purpose of this move is to warm up the body and increase circulation,” Rogers says. “The Hundred coordinates breath with movement and the engagement of the abdominals.”

  • Lie on your back and center yourself on a mat.
  • Draw both knees into your chest and hug with your hands.
  • Lift your head up and look toward your abdominals.
  • Extend your arms slightly above hip level.
  • Float your legs to a table top position, with your thighs perpendicular to the floor, your knees bent at a 90 degree angle, and your shins parallel to the floor. (Or, if you prefer, you can do this move with your legs extended at a 45-degree angle.)
  • Keeping your arms straight, vigorously pump your arms up and down. (This should be a small, fast movement — your hands should only move up and down a few inches.) Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, and focus on using your abs.
  • As you pump, inhale for four “pumps” and exhale for four “pumps.” Repeat until you’ve done 100 pumps.


2. Ab Roll-Up

“The roll up stretches the spine and hamstrings,” Rogers says. “The goal is to maintain a c-curve throughout and articulate the spine one vertebra at a time.”

  • Extend your legs straight out on a mat.
  • Reach your arms up to the ceiling, flex your feet, and squeeze your legs together.
  • Inhale and lift your head up off the floor.
  • Exhale and slowly roll up, reaching forward towards your toes. Keep your back rounded through the forward fold.
  • Inhale and roll back slightly; then exhale to roll all the way back down (one vertebra at a time) until you’re flat on the floor again.


3. One Leg Circle

Looking to improve shoulder and hip stability? Add this move to your Pilates routine. “This is a deep stretch and an exercise that requires strong coordination skills,” Rogers says.

  • Lie flat on your back with your arms extended long by your sides.
  • Draw your right knee into the chest and give it a stretch, then extend your right leg straight towards the ceiling with your toes pointed. (If you feel too much of a stretch, soften the knee.)
  • Keeping your hips stable, your leg straight, and your back flat on the floor, drop your right leg towards the left side of your body. Sweep your right leg down towards your left leg, then out to the right side, then back up to the starting position, as if you’re drawing a circle in the air with your toe.
  • Complete eight reps and then reverse.


4. Scissor Kicks

The goal of this move is to “stretch the hamstrings while engaging the abdominals,” Rogers says. The exercise focuses on shoulder and hip stability as well as coordination.

  • Start by lying flat on your back. Lift your head and shoulders off the floor, and extend both legs toward the ceiling. Flex your feet.
  • Place two hands behind your right calf as you lower your left leg to a 45 degree angle. Draw your right leg toward your core with two small pulsing motions.
  • Switch legs so you’re holding behind your left calf and your right leg is extended at a 45 degree angle. Pull your left leg in toward your core and pulse twice.
  • Complete four to eight sets.


Meagan Morris a writer specializing in all things related to health and wellness. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. Learn more at meaganleamorris.com.

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