Whether you’re tired from regular HIIT classes or stressed out by your busy schedule, there are plenty of reasons to treat your body with gentle movement. Enter Pilates, a low-impact workout that builds strength, flexibility, and mobility all at once. And you don’t need to join a studio to try it thanks to the many Pilates at-home workouts that you can do on your own time, no Reformer necessary.
If you’ve never tried it before, Pilates involves precise, repetitive movements — think pumping your arms or lifting your heels up and down — that engage your muscles while going easy on your joints. The fitness modality is popular for its core-heavy exercises: A regular practice can strengthen your ab muscles over time, which can help improve your posture and ease body aches like that dreaded WFH back pain, says Club Pilates GO instructor Tracy Bauer. And Pilates isn’t just good for your body — it’s also good for your mind, she adds. The exercises often pair your breath with your movement, and that mind-body connection can encourage mindfulness and reduce stress.
The best part of all? Though many think of the big pieces of fitness equipment many Pilates studios use, you can do the same kinds of exercises on a mat. So unroll yours and soak in all the benefits with these trainer-approved Pilates home workouts.
1. 10-Minute Core
Pilates is all about your core, and this short workout makes that very clear. Wake up your abs after a long day of sitting at your desk with exercises from bande studio founding instructor Amanda Jenny, all of which you can do without ever standing up. Do each of the below moves for one minute, then cycle through the entire sequence a second time for a complete core burner.
- Pilates hundred: Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and legs in a tabletop position. Then use your core to lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground while pumping your arms vigorously.
- The roll-up: Sit with your legs extended in front of you. With your arms reaching forwards, slowly roll down onto your back until you’re lying down. Slowly roll back up to seated position and repeat.
- Single-leg stretch: Lie on your back with your legs in tabletop position. Use your core to lift your head, neck, and shoulders off the ground. Grab your right shin and extend your left leg to hover a few inches off the ground. Hold for a few seconds, then switch sides.
- Rolling like a ball: Sit up with your knees tucked in towards your body. Grab your shins and float your feet off the floor. Slowly roll back until your shoulder blades touch the floor, then rock back up and try to balance without touching your feet to the ground.
- Criss-cross (bicycle crunches)
2. Core Round Two
If 10 minutes of core work just wasn’t enough, Jenny has got you covered with this second Pilates ab session. Flip over onto all fours to get started, then cycle through the below moves for one minute each. Repeat the sequence twice for 10 minutes of serious core work.
- Bear plank: Hover your knees in tabletop position for four counts, then lower your knees to the ground. Repeat.
- Bird-dog crunches: Lengthen your right arm and left leg, then crunch your elbow and knee together. Switch sides and repeat.
- Forearm plank to pike: Start in a forearm plank, then pike your hips up into a downward dog-like shape. Return to plank and repeat.
- Alternating toe taps: Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and legs in tabletop position. Keep your knees bent as you lower one foot to tap the ground. Lift back up to tabletop, then switch sides and repeat.
- Toe taps: Follow the same instructions for alternating toe taps, except lower and lift both legs at the same time.
3. Clamshell Series
Give your core a break with Jenny’s leg-focused sequence, which harnesses several variations of one glute-burning Pilates move — the clamshell — to work your outer booty and inner thighs. Clocking in at just five minutes, this workout makes for a perfect movement break during your busy day. But don’t be fooled by the short timeline — your legs will feel it.
- Lie on your right side with your thighs angled in front of you and your knees bent. Keep your heels together. You can prop up your head with your hand.
- 1 minute of full-range clamshells: Keep your heels together, then open your left leg as much as you can. Close and repeat.
- 30 seconds of triple-pulse clamshells: Open your left leg as much as you can, then pulse three times at the top. Close and repeat.
- 30 seconds of pulse clamshells: Open your left leg as much as you can, then pulse it back once. Close and repeat.
- 30 seconds of internal and external rotation: Disconnect your feet and lift your left leg in the air. Internally rotate your left leg and tap knee to knee. Lift your left leg, externally rotate it and tap foot to foot.
- Repeat everything on the other side.
4. Standing Series
Get up out of your desk chair and give your aching lower back a break with this standing Pilates session from Victoria Popoff, an instructor at Club Pilates GO. Her Pilates moves are designed to build mobility and stability in your lower body and core, all of which can help you move through the rest of your day with more ease (aka: It’s functional fitness). As an added bonus, this workout includes deep breathing, which research shows can help calm anxiety and reduce stress.
- Standing balance with rocking: Stand with soft knees. Slowly rock between your heels and toes. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth while you rock.
- Prancing in place: Elevate one heel as you press the opposite foot into the ground. Slowly change sides, elevating the opposite heel. If you’d like more intensity, lift your arms overhead and lower them with each change of foot position. Pair your breath with each movement.
- Standing abs: Stand on your left leg with your knee soft and left hand on your hip. Extend your right leg to the side and your right hand to the ceiling. Then slowly crunch your right elbow and knee together. Exhale as you crunch, and inhale as you release. Repeat for six to eight reps per side.
- Standing dive: Stand with your feet under your hips with your heels firmly planted and knees soft. Reach your arms overhead. Tuck your chin towards your chest, then slowly lower your chest down with your back flat, like you’re diving towards your feet. Exhale as you lower, and inhale as you lift back up to standing. Repeat four to six times.
5. Kneeling Series
- Flat back abdominal breathing: Find a tabletop position with a flat back. Inhale, then as you exhale, draw your abs up towards your back without actually moving your spine. Repeat six to eight times.
- Cat/cow: Inhale and round your back for cat pose, then lower your belly to the ground as you exhale for cow pose. Move through cat/cow for as long as you like.
- Bird-dog: Exhale to lift your opposite arm and leg in line with your spine, then inhale as you lower them back to the ground. Switch sides and repeat for six to eight reps per side.
- Plank: Start in a tabletop position with your right leg extended behind you. As you inhale, bring your left leg to meet it in plank position. Hold plank and breathe slowly for 10 counts, then repeat on the other side for two to four reps per side.
- Child’s pose: Hold for three to six long breaths.
6. Bridge Workout
Flip over onto your back to give Popoff’s all-bridge series a try. Start with the basic version of the staple Pilates exercise, then intensify your workout with variations that will put your core and glute strength to the test.
- Bridge: Inhale as you slowly press your hips up, then exhale as you slowly lower them down. Repeat six to eight times.
- Bridge marches: Hold your hips high in bridge. Inhale as you lift one knee up at a 90-degree angle, then exhale as you lower back down. Switch sides and repeat eight to 10 times per side.
- Bridge hip dips: Hold your hips high in bridge. Exhale as you lower your right hip towards the ground, then inhale as you lift back to center. Switch sides. Repeat four to six times per side.
7. Seated Series
If you prefer more meditative Pilates, look no further. Popoff’s restorative seated session focuses on building flexibility and relaxing your body through gentle stretches and breathwork. You can do the entire sequence on the ground with your legs extended in front of you. She recommends sitting on a towel or soft surface to get extra comfortable.
- Forward fold: Exhale as you slowly walk your hands forward as far as you can. Inhale as you lift back up to sitting position. Repeat four to six times.
- Mermaid: Either keep both legs extended in front of you or bring the sole of one foot to your opposite inner thigh. Then lean towards your extended foot, reaching the opposite arm upwards and over your body until you feel a stretch in your obliques. Hold for three to four breaths per side.
- Finish with four to six slow breaths in a seated position to help your body relax.
8. Best-Of Pilates
Dabble in a full range of classic Pilates exercises with this best-of sequence from Bauer. Repeat each exercise eight to 10 times per side, or adjust the reps to suit your preferences as you slay this Pilates crash course.
- Pilates hundred: Hold for 10 long breaths.
- Single-leg stretch
- Double-leg stretch: Lie on your back with your legs in tabletop position. Exhale as you curl your head up and place your hands on your knees. Inhale as you extend both legs to hover above the ground and lift your arms overhead. Crunch back in and repeat.
- Straight single-leg stretch: Lie on your back with your left leg extended straight up and right leg hovering above the ground. Pull your left leg towards your head as you crunch your upper body towards your leg. Switch sides and repeat.
- Straight double-leg stretch: Lie on your back with your hands behind your head and legs extended about 45 degrees above the ground. Inhale as you lower your legs an inch, then exhale to lift them back to their original position.
- Windshield wiper: Lie on your back with your arms extended to the side and legs in tabletop position. Inhale and lower both knees to the right while keeping both shoulder blades on the floor. Exhale to lift back to center, then repeat on the other side.
- Push-ups: Inhale as you lower down halfway, hold for a few seconds, then exhale as you press back up.
- Plank leg lift: Hold high plank, then alternate lifting one leg up.
- Plank saw: Hold high plank, then slowly shift your body forward and backwards.
Ma, X. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/
Victoria Popoff, instructor at Club Pilates GO