A Beginner's Guide To 10 Must-Know Pilates Exercises

Consider this your crash course on the workout modality.

Originally Published: 
Fitness pros share the 10 must-know Pilates exercises for beginners.
Getty Images/miniseries

whitebalance.oatt/E+/Getty Images

Now that you can track Pilates on your Apple Watch, it’s prime time to try it for yourself. The fitness modality builds strength in your entire body, says instructor Ashley Patten, making it a great go-to workout. Ease your way in with these 10 Pilates exercises for beginners.


Pilates Breathing

Trainer Gia Calhoun says breathwork is key for getting the most out of all Pilates exercises.

- Sit comfortably with shoulders back. Lift out of hips.

- Inhale through nose, draw ribs in.

- Exhale through mouth, engage core.

- Start your workout with 10 breaths.

PPAMPicture/E+/Getty Images

The 100

Patten says this classic Pilates warm-up connects your breath to your body.

- Start on your back, knees bent, shins parallel to floor.

- Exhale. Lift torso off mat.

- Reach hands forward.

- Quickly pump arms up and down as you inhale for 5, out for 5, all the way to 100.

Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images

Bird Dog

Pilates instructor Tracy Green calls this a great core stabilizing exercise.

- Start on all fours.

- Reach right arm forward, extend left leg back. Engage core.

- Stretch each limb as if you’re reaching for something.

- Return to center. Repeat on other side, 10x.

urbazon/E+/Getty Images

Leg Circles

Trainer Eloise Skinner says you can make bigger circles as you get stronger.

- Lie on back, arms at sides.

- Lengthen one leg to ceiling. Use leg to draw a circle in the air. Keep pelvis stable.

- Do this 5 times clockwise then reverse for 5.

- Repeat with other leg.

StockPlanets/E+/Getty Images

Pilates Crunch

Work your abs with this move, courtesy of trainer Portia Paige.

- Start on back, knees bent, feet on floor.

- Bend elbows with fingers at ears.

- Tuck chin and lift your upper body to crunch by sliding ribs toward hips.

- Repeat 15x.

FG Trade/E+/Getty Images


Paige recommends planks to strengthen your abs, legs, arms, and shoulders at once.

- From all fours, lower to forearms.

- Step legs back, push toes into floor.

- Keep torso long and straight, hips in line with shoulders.

- Leave knees on floor if needed. Hold 30-90 seconds.



Bridges strengthen the back of your body, says Paige.

- Start on floor with knees bent, feet hip-width apart.

- Press into feet, lift hips to make straight line from knees to shoulders.

- Press hands into floor to open up your chest.

Hold for 10 seconds. Lower and repeat.

Dario Secen/Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Scissor Kicks

Calhoun says this move hits the core, glutes, and quads, and doubles as a hamstring stretch.

- Lie on back. Lift left leg up to sky. Use hands to pull leg towards you.

- Curl your head up. Hover right leg off floor.

- Alternate sides for one minute.

LaylaBird/E+/Getty Images

Side Plank

Calhoun recommends holding this for 30 seconds per side to work your obliques and improve balance.

- Lie on your right side.

- Press right forearm into the floor as you lift your hips.

- Flex feet. Engage thighs and core.

- Repeat on your left side.



Target your back, core, hamstrings, and glutes with swimmers, says instructor Khayla Golucke.

- On stomach, reach arms forward, palms facing each other.

- Lift arms and legs off ground.

- Alternate kicking each limb like you’re swimming. Engage core.

- Repeat 10-15 reps.

Thanks for reading,
head home for more!