How to Do Pilates

Six Parts:Preparing for Your WorkoutPerforming Supine Pilates MovementsLearning Prone Pilates MovesLearning Plank PositionsSitting Positions for PilatesWorking Out Your Legs

Pilates is a type of fitness system that consists of movement exercises that are designed to tone the body, strengthen the muscles, increase flexibility and agility, improve posture, and heighten concentration skills. The movements require physical control, mental focus, and special breathing that’s supposed to help your mind and body work together. Pilates exercises can be performed on a mat, where you create resistance using your own body weight and sometimes simple equipment like resistance bands. The first step in learning Pilates is learning some basic poses, and from there you can move on to more advanced positions and learn new movements. Some of the movements are performed on your back, while others are done on your stomach, your side, or in plank position, while others still are performed sitting or standing.

Part 1
Preparing for Your Workout

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    Dress appropriately. For Pilates, you want stretchy, breathable fabrics and comfortable clothes that allow you to move freely. At the same time, you don’t want anything too loose or too long that you could get caught in or trip on. Popular clothing choices include:
    • Tank tops and tight t-shirts
    • Yoga pants
    • Shorts or capris-length pants in a spandex-type material
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    Get yourself an exercise mat. Yoga mats aren’t just for toting around and looking hip! They actually provide some protection for your bones and joints during floor exercises, and the foam surface provides grip, making it easier to hold poses, and preventing you from injuring yourself or pulling a muscle.
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    Find a space. To do Pilates mat exercises, you need a large open space and a flat surface. A living room or bedroom will work if you can move some lighter furniture around. Make sure you have enough room to:
    • Lie down on your back and extend your arms and legs out 90 degrees to the sides.[1]
    • Stand up and stretch your arms to the ceiling without touching the ceiling.
    • Lie down on your back in the same position (legs stretched out toward one wall and arms stretched out toward the other).
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    Learn the proper breathing technique. A major part of Pilates is learning the controlled breathing, which helps you concentrate, oxygenates the blood, and helps you coordinate your movements. Proper breathing should be practiced throughout the entire workout. To breathe properly for Pilates:[2]
    • Lie flat on your back with your neck long and relaxed.
    • Place one hand on your ribs and one on your lower abs.
    • Inhale deeply through your nose, pushing air into your abdominals and filling your ribcage.
    • Exhale through the mouth and push the air out by contracting your abdominal muscles.
    • Continue inhaling and exhaling in this way.
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    Know what to work toward. Along with proper breathing, some of the main tenets of Pilates are being able to center yourself (which helps with relaxation), concentrating your full attention on each motion and controlling every movement, and being aware of proper body alignment and striving to maintain it.[3] Not only will you get a better workout by focusing on these things, but you’ll also prevent injuries.
    • Always keep your core engaged during your Pilates workout.

Part 2
Performing Supine Pilates Movements

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    Learn the bridge. There are several Pilates moves that are performed from a supine position (meaning lying on your back). All supine moves will begin with you lying on your back. For the bridge, bend your knees and lay your arms on the ground at your sides, palms on the ground. Plant your feet flat on the floor and hip-width apart, about halfway between your bum and where they’d normally be if your legs were fully extended. Then:
    • Press your weight evenly into your feet, shoulders, and arms as you squeeze and lift your hips into the air until your body forms a straight line between your shoulders and knees.
    • Hold the pose as you inhale and exhale three times.
    • Lower yourself back to the floor.
    • Repeat five times.
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    Master leg circles. Straighten your arms and legs and lay your arms on the ground at a 45-degree angle from your body. Keep your left leg on the ground and raise your right leg straight up toward the ceiling. If that is too difficult or uncomfortable, bend your left knee.
    • Keep your hips stable as you trace five volleyball-sized circles in the sky with your right leg.
    • Reverse the direction of the circle and trace five circles going the other way. Put your leg back on the ground.
    • Switch legs and repeat.[4]
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    Do the abdominal criss-cross. Pull your knees in to your chest. Raise your head and neck and place your hands behind your head. Extend your right leg out straight and gently twist your body so your right elbow moves toward your left bent knee. Bend your right knee and bring it back to your chest again, and as you do so, straighten your left leg out and gently twist your body so your left elbow moves toward your right bent knee.[5]
    • Repeat five times.
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    Master the hundred. Lie down with your knees, feet, and hands in position as though you were going to go into bridge pose. Lift your head, neck, and shoulders slightly off the ground. Keep your arms straight and at your sides as you lift them off the ground to a 45-degree angle.
    • As you inhale for five seconds and exhale for five seconds, pulse your arms up and down 10 times.
    • Repeat this 10 times, for a total of 100 arm pulses.

Part 3
Learning Prone Pilates Moves

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    Do the swan. Prone means lying flat on the ground on your stomach, and all the prone positions begin with you lying down on your stomach with your forehead resting on the ground. For the swan, place your hands under your shoulders as though you were going to push yourself up. Tuck your elbows in beside your body. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
    • Press your pubic bone into the ground and press into your palms as you lift your face, neck, and chest off the ground, bending at your lower back so you are sitting up like a sphinx. Inhale, exhale, and lower yourself back down.[6]
    • Repeat two more times, lifting yourself slightly higher each time.
    • Always keep the tops of your feet flat on the ground.
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    Go for a swim! Stretch your arms straight in front of you (as though you were swimming) on the ground. Squeeze your thighs and heels together. Lift your head, neck, and chest off the ground. Lift your right arm and left leg as you squeeze your glutes (that’s one stroke). Return your arm and leg to the ground, and lift your left arm and right leg[7] (that’s two strokes).
    • Complete 24 strokes.
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    Make yourself into a T. Lay your arms on the ground beside you and press your feet together. Raise your head, neck, and chest off the ground. Raise your arms off the ground slightly and extend them out perpendicular to your body with your palms facing down.
    • Sweep your arms back (still straight) and lift your chest off the ground a little higher as you bring your arms closer to your body. Return to the starting position.[8]
    • Repeat four more times, for a total of five Ts.

Part 4
Learning Plank Positions

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    Perform a basic plank. Get on your hands and knees. Position your wrists under your shoulders, and your knees under your hips. Keep the balls of your toes on the floor and bring your feet into a walking position (as though your feet were flat on the floor).
    • Shift your weight to your hands and the balls of your feet as you lift your knees and legs off the floor and straighten your body into a line.
    • Hold for 10 seconds, or longer if you can.
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    Kick like a donkey. From plank position, lift your right leg back and toward the ceiling. Then lower it, bend your right knee, tuck your head down, and bring your knee in toward your nose. Extend your leg back out and repeat four more times.
    • Return to plank and repeat with the other leg.
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    Try the inverted plank. Sit on your bum with your legs stretched out in front of you. Place your hands on either side of your body, just slightly behind your bum, with your fingertips facing toward your legs. Keep your feet on the floor, point your toes, and straighten your legs as you lift your bum and legs off the floor with your arms.

Part 5
Sitting Positions for Pilates

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    Do some abdominal rolls. These three positions begin with you sitting up straight with your legs extended out straight directly in front of you. Raise your arms and extend them out straight so they’re parallel with your legs. Lower your head and curl yourself back as you bend your knees. Stop when you’ve leaned back about halfway and raise your arms.
    • Inhale slowly. Exhale, lower your arms, and curl back up to a straight back.[9]
    • Repeat six to eight times.
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    Stretch your spine. Separate your legs a little more than hip-width apart. Flex your feet and point your toes at the ceiling. Raise your arms straight out in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Round your back into a C so your neck and head bow forward and stretch your arms forward. Inhale slowly, and slowly straighten back out as you exhale.
    • Repeat four more times.
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    Do the saw. Separate your legs a little more than hip-width apart. Extend your arms straight out to your sides. Gently twist to your left and stretch your right hand to your left foot. Inhale slowly.
    • Exhale and bring your body back to center.
    • Twist to the right and stretch your left hand to your right foot.
    • Inhale slowly. Return to center.
    • Alternate twisting to the left and right for a total of three times.

Part 6
Working Out Your Legs

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    Perform side kicks. Lie straight and flat on your right side with your right arm extended out under you. Lift your head, neck, and chest slightly off the ground and bend your right arm at the elbow to prop up your head. Keep your hips and legs stacked on top of one another, and bend slightly at the hip so your feet are sticking out at a bit of an angle.
    • Place your left hand on the ground in front of your torso for support.
    • Raise your left leg slightly, flex your left foot, and kick your left leg out in front of you 90 degrees.
    • Swing it back to its starting position and kick it out behind you as you point your foot.
    • Repeat for a total of 10 kicks forward and back, then switch sides and repeat.
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    Do on the spot knee raises. Stand up straight and stick your elbows out in front at shoulder height as you cross your hands to the opposite shoulders. Lift your right knee toward your right elbow as high as you can (this is one step). Drop your leg and lift your left knee toward your left elbow (this is a second step).
    • Take 20 steps in total.
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    Use the wall as a chair. Stand with your back straight against a wall. With your feet hip-width apart, sink down lower and bend your knees as you walk your feet out. Stop when your legs form a 90-degree angle. Keep your back against the wall, raise your arms out straight in front of you (parallel to the ground).
    • Hold for 30 seconds. Take a 10 second break and repeat once.


  • Once you’ve learned the basic moves, you can make them harder by pushing yourself into the poses a little more every time or holding them for longer.
  • Feel free to create your own routine with these moves, and incorporate new movements into the routine as you learn them.
  • Many gyms and fitness centers offer Pilates classes, and having a knowledgeable instructor is a great way to learn the proper poses and learn a variety of movements.
  • Always talk to your doctor or health care practitioner before starting a new type of exercise, especially if you are pregnant.

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Categories: Pilates