If you’ve taken a Pilates mat class or a one-on-one lesson using a Reformer, you may feel inspired to pursue the precise, fluid, controlled movements at home. And you can! One of the wonderful things about Pilates is that you can benefit from practicing at home, either as a way to keep up your skills in between classes and private lessons, or as a stand-alone personal routine.
While there are hundreds of Pilates exercises to choose from, the program below is made up of quintessential, key Pilates exercises easily done at home on a mat. They will take your body through a range of motions that build core strength, tone your muscles, improve balance and flexibility, and gently energize you.
Lie down on the floor. Keeping your chin down, raise your head and curl your upper spine while extending and lifting your legs and arms a couple of inches off the ground. Bend your knees to 90 degrees so they’re directly above your hips. Keep your arms straight out in front of you, at a 45 degree angle and start pulsing them to the rhythm of your breathing, inhaling for five beats and exhaling for five beats (think of it as sniffing in and puffing out). Repeat 10 times, for 100 beats total.
Lie on your back with your right knee to your chest and then raise your right leg straight to the ceiling so that it makes a vertical line over your hip, holding your ankle or calf. (If your hamstrings are tight it may be difficult to keep your leg in a straight line, in which case you can bend your knee—just keep it over your hip.) You left leg can be flat on the floor or you can bend your knee if you have any lower back pain. With your right foot softly pointed, return your arms to your sides. Draw basketball-size circles in the air with your pointed toe, starting the circle by moving across your body, then heading down and progressing all the way around, counter clockwise. Control the circles, consciously stabilizing the movement from your belly, and don’t strain your hip joint. With each repetition, complete one full breath—inhale and exhale. Do three to five reps. Stop and complete a set of circles in the opposite direction, doing three to five more reps. Switch to the other leg and repeat. End by pulling both knees in and then rolling up to a sitting position. Begin with one set and work up to three as your strength improves.
Rolling Like a Ball
Sit on the floor with your knees bent into your chest and grasp your ankles, with your elbows open out to the sides. Open your knees just a bit as you raise your feet from your mat. Tuck your chin into your chest, look at your navel and pull your belly back toward your spine. You should maintain a rounded spine by drawing your abs in for the duration of the exercise. Press your midsection further into your spine to begin rolling backward to the tip of your shoulder blades—not touching your neck or head to the floor—as you inhale; exhale to reverse direction. Roll up to your sacrum (your tailbone) for just two–three seconds to ensure your abs are engaged (put a foot down if you need to for support), then roll back again. Roll five to eight times. End balanced on your sacrum, still tucked.
Lie on your back, knees to chest, grasping your shins, with your head, neck and shoulders lifted off the mat, and inhale deeply. As you inhale, extend your arms and legs so they are at 45 degree angles to the floor. For those who want to make it easier or who have lower back concerns, extend your legs higher—the lower your legs go, the harder this exercise is. Keep your torso on the mat, with your midsection anchored to your spine, and shoulders down (not hunched up around your ears). Exhale and scoop—lengthen and deepen your abdominals as though you’re hollowing out space—back in, bringing your knees back to your chest and circling them with your arms. Repeat five to 10 times. You should end with both knees to your chest, hands on shins.
Spine Stretch Forward
Sit on the floor with your back straight, your legs extended at an angle slightly wider than your hips and your feet flexed. Reach your arms straight out in front of you. Inhale and try to sit up even taller, squeezing your buttocks. Lower your chin to your chest and round over your midsection, exhaling as you go and reaching with your arms so that you resemble the letter C. Inhale and reverse the direction, rolling up vertebra by vertebra. Return to the starting position. Repeat three times, trying to curve and stretch the lower spine more each time. Finish by sitting up tall, with your legs extended.
Side Kick (Front/Back)
Begin by lying on your right side, right arm bent with your head resting in your right hand, your left hand solidly planted, palm down, in front of your midsection for support. Pull your belly in. Bring your legs about 30 degrees forward. Stack one leg on top of the other, both straight, feet softly pointed. Raise your top leg until your foot is at hip level. Turn the whole leg slightly out from the hip, rotating it a bit toward the ceiling. Inhale. Swing the top leg forward, keeping it straight. Pulse twice, as far in front of you as you can, keeping the rest of your body stationary. Try to move only your leg. Exhale as you extend your leg behind you and pulse. The complete movement is fluid: Pulse twice in front, once in back. Repeat six to 10 times. Switch sides.
Lie on your mat face down with your arms close to your body and your legs together. Bend your elbows to bring your hands under your shoulders. Engage your abdominal muscles, lifting your belly button up from the mat. Inhale as you lengthen your spine. At the same time, press your forearms and hands into the mat to create an arc in your upper body. Your hips should stay on your mat. Exhale as you keep your abdominals lifted as you release the arc, lengthening your spine as your torso slowly returns to the mat. Repeat three to five times.