The benefits of Pilates extend far beyond just providing a tough core workout. Pilates improves your posture, flexibility and resilience to injury. However, it really does provide a tough core workout, so if that’s all you want from your Pilates session, rest assured these six exercises from Kate Burdett (head trainer at Pilates studio Raw Pilates (opens in new tab)) will get the job done.
1 The hundred
“This exercise is a great warm-up and really gets the blood pumping around the body,” says Burdett. “The hundred is not just an abdominal exercise, but also a breathing exercise.
“Lie on your back with your arms by your sides, then bend both knees so you are in table-top position, and slowly lift your head, neck and shoulders off the mat, reaching forwards with your arms.
“Extend your legs, keeping your heels together at either 90° for a beginner version of the exercise, 45° for intermediate, or about 5cm off the floor for advanced.
“Pump your arms up and down vigorously, making short inhalations for five pumps through your nose and short exhalitions for five pumps through your mouth. Your breath should get deeper as you go. Repeat ten times so you reach 100 breaths. Bring your knees back to your chest when complete.”
2 Roll up
"The aim of this exercise is to strengthen your core while stretching your spine,” says Burdett.
“Moving straight on from the hundred exercise, stretch your legs on the mat, feet flexed and heels tightly together. Lift your head and look at your toes, float your arms above your thighs and start rolling your spine up, stretching your fingers past your toes if possible. Then use your abdominals to roll you back down again.
“Exhale as your spine leaves the mat, breathe in at the top of the move, then exhale again as your spine rolls into the mat. This is key to make sure you are in control of the movement from the core. Repeat this exercise six times and finish in a seated position.”
3 Double leg kick
“The double leg kick stretches your chest, abdominals and hip flexors,” says Burdett. “It can help to improve the flexibility of your back, and this can both help prevent injury and maintain good posture.”
Start lying face down with your arms by your sides.
“Kick your heels up towards the ceiling, repeating this three times,” says Burdett. “On the third kick simultaneously extend your legs and stretch your arms, lifting your chest and looking forwards.”
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4 Leg circle
“This exercise is fantastic for working your core muscles,” says Burdett. “It helps strengthen your core and stretches your hips. Tight hips can lead to pain and tension in the back, so the leg circle is perfect for relieving any unwanted tightness.
“Lie on your back with your arms by your sides. Extend your right leg towards the ceiling. Slowly circle your leg outwards ten times, allowing your pelvis to move freely. Lower your right leg to the floor, then repeat the move with your left leg. On your next set, circle your legs inwards. Keep your pelvis still for a challenge. Repeat six to eight times.”
5 Plank leg lift
“This exercise improves stability in your core, spine and hips, and strengthens your lower back while improving hip mobility,” says Burdett.
“Start in a plank position with your hands placed directly under your shoulders. Raise one leg off the floor as high as you can but not past shoulder height. Alternating lifting legs. Keep your core, glutes and quads engaged to avoid rocking your hips. Repeat six to eight times.”
6 Scissor kick
“Lie on your back and slowly lift your top half off the ground,” says Burdett. “Extend your right leg so that it is at a right angle to the floor. Bring your hands behind your right leg, pulling it in towards your face, and curl your head up. Lift your left leg a few centimetres off the floor. Switch legs, pulling your left leg in towards you and letting your right leg hover above the floor. Continue switching legs and repeat this ten times.”
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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