Pilates: The First Four

We’ve gone over the benefits, a little history, principles and form so now it’s time for the good stuff, the moves!

Starting Your Workout

You can start a Pilates workout in one of two ways, you can eager beaver right into The Hundred, or you can starting with a little breath work/centering.

Personally, I’m a fan of the second. I find I enjoy the workout if I take a couple minutes to bring my focus inward, concentrate on my breathing and just de-stress from my day before I hop into some ab work, so that’s what I usually teach. But, it’s perfectly fine jump right into things as long as you’re body is warm. Pilates and cold muscles are a bad mix, actually cold muscles and anything are a bad mix, don’t skip your warm ups.

The Hundred

In classical Pilates, the hundred is always first, it gets the blood circulating, builds some heat and it certainly wakes that core up!

Prepare for The Hundred by lying on your back with your feet planted on the ground and your knees pointed towards the ceiling and your arms stretched out beside you.

Sinking your belly button towards your spine, lift your head and shoulders off the mat, bring your gaze to the navel to prevent strain on the neck. Lift the arms slightly off the ground to either side of you and begin to pump them up and down.

Inhale for five counts and exhale for five counts, repeat 10 times (5+5 x 10=100!)


  • For a greater challenge, bring the knees to a table top position:

    or straighten your legs towards the ceiling:

  • Or if your if hard core you can start to lower the legs towards the floor, making sure your lower back stays glued to the mat.


  • Remember to sink your belly button down towards your spine with every exhale
  • Keep the shoulders pulled down the back, don’t let them creep up near the shoulders

The Roll Up

Start laying on your back with your feet planted on your mat and your arms reaching over head, focus on closing the gap between your lower back and the mat, engaging the core and releasing through the quads and hip flexors. Inhale as you slightly lift your head and arms up off the mat bringing your gaze towards your navel, as you exhale roll all the way up to sitting keeping your feet planted on the mat – don’t use momentum.

Once you get to the top inhale as you straighten your legs and your reach the arms towards the ceiling growing tall through the spine, as you exhale fold forwards reaching towards the toes. An inhale brings you back up and exhale as you roll slowly down to your back feeling each vertebrae press into to the mat as you lower down.

Complete 3 to 5 repetitions.


  • For and extra challenge you can straighten your legs as you roll up down, as always remembering that Pilates stance!


  • Think about closing the gap between your lower back and the mat at the beginning of each repetition, this will both engage your core and help your lower back.
  • Lower down slowly! The slower you go the harder your core will work.
  • Keep your feet/legs glued to the mat as you roll up, don’t let your legs do the work

Single Leg Circles

Lying on your back with your knees pointed up towards the ceiling, hug one knee in towards your chest.

I like to take a couple of seconds here to rock the leg from side to side before I start the actual exercise to help loosen up through the hip joint, we tend to unknowingly hold a lot of tension in our hips so taking time to loosen things up a little makes the exercise a little more enjoyable.

Extend your leg up towards the ceiling straightening as much as possible and really externally rotation that leg, you want to think about bringing that inner pants seam towards your face. Feel your triceps and shoulders press into the mat as you glue your belly button to your spine.

As you inhale bring the foot across the body and down, exhale and bring the leg straight back up towards your face, making an uppercase D shape with your leg. Complete 3 to 5 repetitions and reverse, inhaling as you lower the leg and exhale as you bring it back up and around.


  • For a greater challenge, straighten the bottom leg

  • If you can’t straight your leg all the way, it’s perfectly fine to keep it bent, just be sure you’re still working that Pilates stance
  • You can bring the hands to the hips to help stabilize them


  • Really turn out through the working leg, when you let the leg rotate inward the quad starts doing all the work instead of the hip joint.
  • Keep the hips stable through the entire exercise, if you’re having trouble keeping them still, make your movement smaller and trying bringing the hands to the hips.

Rolling Like  A Ball

Rolling Like a Ball is one of several Pilates rolling exercises, which I think are pretty fun.

To start, come to the top edge of your mat, making sure you have enough room behind you to rock back without rocking off your mat. With your feet flat on the floor in front of you, bring the insides of your feet together, leaving the knees just slightly apart. Place your hands on your hamstring and lean back until it feels as if you’re hanging on your hamstrings, bring a deep C-curve into your back.

Slowly walk your feet back until you find a balancing point on your sacrum, the wide, flat bone at the base of your spine, NOT your tail bone (ouch!).

As you inhale lean back and rock to the tips of your shoulder blades, exhale as you rock back up to your balancing point.

Complete 6 repetitions.


  • You can place your hands on top of your shins for a little bit more of a balance challenge


  • Only rock back to the tips of your should blades, DO NOT roll back on to your neck, bad things could happen.
  • Keep your elbows parallel to the ground, don’t let them droop towards your sides.
  • Try not to use momentum as you rock up, think about scooping the belly as you exhale to engage your core and use your core strength to bring up back up.
  • Make sure you keep a really deep C-curve in your back, it will help protect it and give you a nice little massage as you rock back and forth!

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. Great post! I want to try out pilates now:)

  2. Sarah Fitabulous

     /  December 8, 2012

    I definately want to start doin Pilates more, these basics to start are awesome!

  3. These are some of my FAVE pilates moves! I do the hundred almost every time I work core. I’m to the point now where I can keep my legs straightened and bring them about halfway down without my back lifting up off the mat, woo hoo!
    I loved rolling like a ball in the pilates classes I took at school. Unfortunately I don’t really do it anymore b/c I practice pilates moves on my own at the gym, and I think I might get some weird looks. But boy is it fun!
    I love the roll-up too. I like to do that as my final core move when I work abs, because it relaxes me and kinda “cools me down” to get ready to stretch. Always good to sneak some hammie stretching in.
    And finally I love single leg circles but had totally forgotten about them til now. Mental note to do them – thanks for the reminder!


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