Pilates Beginners: Get Started With These Basic Exercises

yoga for beginners

Pilates provides a full-body workout designed to tone your body and promote physical and mental well-being. These exercises were developed by Joseph Pilates and became popular among professional dancers in the New York City Ballet in the 1920s.

Pilates is designed to strengthen your core and improve posture. Although some Pilates classes incorporate specialized equipment, you can explore the benefits of this form of fitness through simple exercises that only require a mat.

Pilates Exercises for Core and Stability

The Hundred

This classical Pilates move is designed to train ab muscles for optimal performance and to warm the body up. Lay on a towel or mat on your back, with knees bent and arms at your sides, palms facing the ground.pilates equipment Raise your legs so that your shins are parallel to the floor. Engage your abdominals and focus on your breathing, lifting the forehead to the knees as you raise your arms a few inches from the floor and vigorously pump your arms up and down. Inhale for 5 pumps then exhale for 5 pumps five times. Take a rest, and then repeat an additional five times.


This Pilates move gives you a shoulder stretch along with an ab workout. Sit on your mat with your legs stretched out toward its corners, as in a straddle. Raise your arms straight out to your sides. Twist your body to the right and stretch your right hand toward your left foot. Pulse gently three times and then repeat on the other side. Repeat 10 times on each side.


This basic move provides an awesome core workout. Starting at neutral spine, place your hands behind your head at the nape of your neck for support and hug your knees to your chest. Keep your left leg in place while extending your right leg straight and holding as you count to three. Then, just switch sides. Do this three times, and then speed it up for another three to five reps. If your head needs more support, try placing a rolled-up towel behind your neck.

One Leg Circles

Return to your back, arms at your side, palms face down. This is known as a neutral spine position. Bend your left knee so that your foot is flat on the floor. Raise your right leg straight into the air. Move your right leg across the body towards the opposite shoulder toward the floor and back again to create a large circle, making sure to keep your lower back on the floor. Do 5 reps and then reverse the circle for another 5 reps. Switch legs and repeat.

Single Leg Stretch

Return to neutral spine and hug one knee to your chest. At the same time, bring your head toward your knee, looking down toward your stomach. Lift the other leg a few inches from the floor and stretch it out. Switch sides, keeping your core engaged and still. Complete 10 reps.

Double Leg Stretch

With this move, take your leg workout to the next level. Start at neutral spine and hug your knees to your chest. Lift your head and place your hands on your knees. Reach your arms over your head as you push your legs out as straight as possible. Make a circle with your arms until they are around your knees, and then hug your knees back toward your chest. Repeat this sequence for 10 sets.

Pilates Exercises for Back and Neck

Cat-Cow Stretch

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you’re probably familiar with the cat-cow sequence. Start in a tabletop position, on your hands and knees with your knees directly below the hips and palms directly below the shoulders. Look forward and down so that your spine is in a neutral position. As you inhale, curl your toes under and lift your tailbone, dropping your navel down and arching your chest and head so that you’re facing forward. This is called cow pose.

When you exhale, move into cat pose by tucking your tailbone, straightening your toes and rounding your spine. Drop your head and look toward your belly button, which should be drawn toward your spine. Repeat the entire sequence for five to 10 sets.

Pelvic Curl

This basic warm-up provides a nice lower back stretch. Start in your neutral spine position. Bend both knees so that your feet are flat on the floor hip-width apart. Take a deep breath in, then lift your hips into a pelvic tilt as you exhale. Engage the core so that you’re pulling your navel in toward your spine. On the next inhale, lift your hips higher by raising your lower and middle back off the ground. Exhale and slowly roll back into a neutral spine position. Repeat this sequence three to five times.

Head Nod

Return to a neutral spine for this lengthening exercise. While breathing in, tilt your chin toward your chest without lifting your head from the mat. Exhale, returning to neutral spine. On the next inhale, tip your head back, then exhale and return. Repeat the entire sequence for 10 sets.

Ready to Get Started?

Once you’ve tried these Pilates exercises for beginners, register for private or semi-private Pilates sessions. The Pilates Swan offers specials for new members who want to learn more about this well-rounded, holistic fitness program.

Previous reading
What’s the Difference Between Pilates and Yoga?
Next reading
Understanding the Principles of Pilates