Pilates: Principles, & Form

Hey guys, I hoped you enjoyed learning about Pilates last week, and if not… well that’s awkward because I’m back this week with more! This week I’m tackling principles and form. I promise I’m getting to the good stuff (aka the actual exercises) soon!


Pilates has 6 basic principles all of the exercises are based around. These principles are important to keep in mind while your practicing Pilates to get the most every class.

  1. Concentration – In Pilates, concentration is important in connecting your mind and body. Stay present and be aware of the sensations in your body and how your muscles are moving. Also when you focus on a certain muscle or muscle group, you can feel that area of the body working so much more than when you aren’t focus on a certain area.
  2. Control – Unlike some other forms of fitness, Pilates really centers around control. Most exercises are done slowly and it’s actually preferred to perform an exercise slowly and with control, than it is to do the exercise as fast as possible.

    I guess you could say she’s got a little control

  3. Center – All Pilates movements are initiated from the core, or the center of the body. The muscles in our center, also referred to as the “powerhouse” (how awesome of a name is that?), includes the abdominal muscles, the lower back, hips and glutes. And we already know the benefits of a strong core, right? Good.
  4. Fluidity – exercises are done in a fluid motion, without the choppiness you usually see in cardio-based classes. And let me tell you, fluid movements are no joke, they can burrnnn.
  5. Precision  – Precision is so key in Pilates and something I really  try to emphasize in my classes. It’s so much better to do a tiny movement or  lay your head back down on the mat than to compromise form. Doing exercises incorrectly (in any form of exercise, not just Pilates) doesn’t help improve your fitness and can set you up for injury. Can’t do a movement right away? It’s okay, do what you can and keep at it. If you work hard you will get there!
  6. Breath – Some people have this thing where they don’t like to breathe. Don’t do that, your body likes oxygen. The breathing in Pilates might be a little funny (I’ll go over that one in a second) but it’s helpful! It helps you engage those deep abdominal muscles, it’s stress relieving and detoxifying so do it!

    Yeah… don’t do that.


I wanted to spend sometime going over proper form because it’s a little different from other types of movement, and it’s really important for getting an effective Pilates workout.

Core Engagement

This is a big one. You should maintain an engaged core throughout the entire workout, it helps protect your lower back from injury and makes the movements much more effective. There are a couple ways I like to think about this engagement:

  • I had one dance teacher who used to tell us to pretend we’re buckling a life jacket:

    Yay core engagement!

    Think about flattening through the front of the ribcage (when you have a life jacket on it’s hard to poke the ribs out) so they’re not sticking out, flattening through the front of the ribcage should cause you to engage your core

  • You can also think about lengthening through the low back. Think about lengthening down through the tailbone, but don’t tuck it. Focusing on the length of your low back and relaxing through the glutes should help you engage the core

So basically don’t let your ribcage or booty stick out, and that should automatically engage the core muscles.

Sinking the Belly Button

Sinking the belly button kind of goes along with core engagement but I wanted to talk about it separately. There are many Pilates exercises (the ab series in particular) that are done laying on the back. When you’re doing an exercise on your back, you want to try to sink the belly button down in to the ground. Thinking about sinking the belly button will help keep your low back glued to the mat throughout the exercise which is super important in protecting the low back.

You can also think about sinking or scooping the belly button even when you’re not doing an exercise on your back and it will help keep that core engage!

Pilates Stance

Pilates stance is probably one of the more unusual form cues in Pilates. If you’ve done ballet for any amount of time it will probably come naturally, but if not it probably feels a little funny.

Pilates stance is an outward rotation of the legs. This rotation should start at the hip (not the knees! That can cause knee issues), think about rotating your inner thighs forward.

To find your Pilates stance (it will be different for everyone based on the hip flexibility and mobility) lay flat on your back (you’ve got the belly button sinking towards the ground right? good) with your legs extended towards the ceiling. Think about rotating the inner seam of your pants towards your face. You can also find it when standing by bring the feet parallel so the insides of the feet are touching, bring a bend in to the knees and from the hips, rotate the legs outward, it might not be far, but that’s okay, focus on the rotation initiating from the hip.

If you don’t have a lot of flexibility you may not be able to keep your legs straight through different exercises, however t it’s still important to keep your legs rotated outward in Pilates stance even if your legs are bent (unless otherwise specified).

Thanks for hanging in there through all the basics with me! I promise next week we’ll start tackling the actual exercises. I just want to set up a good foundation because it’s important!

Disclaimer: I’m not a certified Pilates or group fitness instructor (though I hope to be soon!), though I have done training through my university it was not certified training. Please check with your doctor before beginning or changing your fitness routine.

Leave a comment


  1. A good foundation IS important! And a good reminder because I find that once you have been practicing a form of fitness for awhile it’s easy to forget the basics or stop concentrating on them. So thanks for the reminders! I can’t wait to see those exercises.

  2. I really wish I could do pilates, I have never taken a class but want to improve my flexibility. One day

    • You should try out a class if you ever get the chance! They’re pretty low-key and will definitely help improve flexibility! Of course I’m a little biased because I think Pilates is awesome (:

  3. I would love to do Pilates! I’m so impatient and have difficulty sitting still, though…I’m assuming that’d be a problem, haha

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