A Guide To Pilates Exercises For Beginners

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

For those unfamiliar with this effective form of exercise, Pilates may sound like a fancy foreign food term. However, Pilates have come to be known as a mind-spirit and well-being exercise similar to yoga, with various health benefits.

An Introduction To Pilates For Beginners

This form of exercise was invented by Joseph Pilates during World War I to help bedridden patients with rehabilitation. Today, many dancers, gymnasts, and professional athletes use Pilates to supplement their daily routines, as Pilates is known to build long, lean muscles and increase flexibility.

(For an alternative exercise popular amongst dancers, read Using Ballet Workouts For Strength And Fitness.)

There are two types of Pilates: mat exercise and machine exercise. The former uses the person’s own body as means of resistance, and only requires a floor, a mat, and training in the poses. The latter uses machines for additional resistance to build endurance. Those machines are usually available at community gyms or health centers that have Pilates classes, but should only be used if the person is already familiar with the machine.

Health Benefits

Since the background of Pilates is that of physical rehabilitation, it can provide health benefits without adding burden to the body, if executed correctly. Health benefits may include:

  • Develop a strong core, including strong abs and back
  • Muscles developed are be long and lean, versus bulky
  • Increased flexibility
  • Low impact, hence less chance of future injury and less stress on previously inherited injuries (For more on low impact exercises, read Low Impact Aerobics: Easy Workouts For Everyone.)
  • Prevent future injuries due to stronger muscles
  • Improved coordination
  • Improved endurance for other sports
  • Improve body alignment
  • Improved overall physical and mental health
  • Stress reduction and a calming, mind-improving effect

Beginners Exercises And Steps

While machines for Pilates exercises are only available in studios and professional classes, mat exercises can be done easily at home. This is a perfect way for beginners to start out.

(If you’re looking for more ways to workout at home, check out 5 Best Cardio Exercise Machines For Home Workouts.)

Be sure to always start your workout plan with a warm up session. Here is one Pilates warm up exercise you can do, known as The Hundred:

  1. Lie on your back with the knees bent towards the chest
  2. Breathe in deeply, then breathe out
  3. When breathing out, concentrate on sinking your chest and belly button towards the floor
  4. Then, elongate your arms to the sides of each leg with palms facing down
  5. Lift the head from the shoulders (be careful not to lift from the neck) and look towards your belly button
  6. If possible, try to straighten your legs
  7. Keeping your arms straight, reach for the opposite side of the room (towards the legs) and pump the straightened arms up and down from the shoulders
  8. Be sure to deeply and slowly inhale with each arm elevation
  9. Keep in mind to keep your belly button drawn towards the floor and your back flat on the floor

One abdominal strengthening exercise is the Single Leg Stretch:

  1. Lie on your back with your feet planted on the floor; legs bent
  2. Lift your legs so they are bent at the knees in a 90 degrees angle. Check to see that your pelvis and ribcage are rooted to the floor (it should look like you are seated in an imaginary chair, with the ground as your back rest)
  3. Breathe calmly and place your hands, palms down, at your sides
  4. When you’re ready, extend one leg straight away from the body while keeping your lower back as stable as possible during while exhaling
  5. Then, inhale deeply and return your extended leg back to the 90 degree angle. Be sure your shoulders are still down
  6. Repeat with the opposite leg

Stability is another component of Pilates. Here is a beginner’s Pilates exercise that helps with stability called Side Leg Lifts:

  1. Use a pillow or an arm to cushion your head and lie on your side with both legs straight, one on top of the other
  2. Place your free hand in front of your chest, on the floor, for balancing support
  3. While inhaling, slightly lift your top leg, while keeping it straight and take note to not move the pelvis. You are using your waist muscles to move the leg, not hip muscles
  4. As you exhale, contract your stomach muscles towards your spine, and lift the bottom leg to meet your already-lifted top leg
  5. Keeping the stomach muscles active, lower both legs together back to the floor

To improve hip endurance and pelvic stability, The Clam is a great exercise that can help you:

  1. Lie on your side with your feet in alignment with the spine and the knees bent.
  2. Cushion your head with a pillow
  3. During an exhale, keep the feet together and elevate the top knee in an arc. Be sure to keep your pelvis immobile and not moving.
  4. During an inhale, slowly lower your upper leg.

It is still highly recommended for beginners to attend several classes with a certified instructor before attempting to do Pilates at home to prevent any injuries.


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