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Exercises for Pilates Beginners

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Updated April 07, 2014

This set of Pilates beginner exercises is designed help you build familiarity with Pilates mat exercises. These exercises develop the core strength, stability, and flexibility that Pilates is famous for.

To help you build a balanced routine, I have noted the muscular focus for each exercise. Please keep in mind that all Pilates exercises engage the core abdominal muscles.

There are modification notes in the full instructions for each exercise. You may want to review the Pilates Fundamentals and the Pilates Exercise Modification Tips before you begin.

1. Pilates Warm-Up Exercises

Pilates beginner exercises
courtesy of Peak Pilates
The warm-up exercises are very important in teaching the foundations of Pilates movement. They also prepare the body for safely executing more challenging exercises later. I suggest that you choose at least two or three to begin each Pilates routine you do.

2. Chest Lift

pilates exercises
by Peter Kramer, courtesy of Kolesar Studios
Muscular focus: abdominals--especially upper abs

Tips: This is not a crunch. The abdominals must be pulled way down into a deep scoop as you use them to control a slow, smooth curl up and roll down.

3. The Hundred

pilates picture
courtesy of Peak Pilates
Muscular focus: abdominals, breathing

Tips: Your abdominals will be deeply pulled in, so you will have to use your full lung capacity by breathing into your back and lower ribs. Use your abs to hold yourself up--don't get caught up in your shoulders and neck.

4. The Roll Up

Pilates Roll Up
(c)2006 Marguerite Ogle
Muscular focus: abdominals

Tips: Use your abdominals to roll up and down with control. Do not rely on momentum or letting your legs lift off the mat.

5. One Leg Circle

pilates pictures
courtesy of Peak Pilates
Muscular focus: abdominals, thighs, hip flexors

Tips: The abdominals keep the pelvis stable as the leg moves. No rocking and rolling!

6. Rolling Like a Ball

pilates picture
by Peter Kramer, courtesy of Kolesar Studios
Muscular focus: abdominals

Tips: Stay in your curve for the whole exercise. Initiate the roll back with the abs and not by throwing the upper body back.

7. Open Leg Balance

pilates exercises
courtesy of Kolesar Studios
Muscular focus: abdominals, hamstring stretch

Tips: Use you abdominals to control the pose. Try not to pull on your legs for balance.

8. The Side Kick Series

photo: Peter Kramer, courtesy of Kolesar Studios
Muscular focus: abdominals, all thigh muscles--especially inner thigh

Tips: The ribs should stay lifted throughout each exercise. Do not let them sink to the mat.

9. Front Support/Plank

pilates pictures
courtesy of Peak Pilates
Muscular focus: back extensors, abdominals, shoulders, arms

Tips: Stay in one line from your heels to your ears. Though the focus is somewhat on the upper body, if you engage the legs and imagine squeezing the sit bones together, the exercise will be easier.

10. Saw

Pilates Mat Exercise - Saw
(c)2006, Marguerite Ogle
Muscular focus: hamstrings, inner thigh, oblique abdominals, back stretch

Tips: Keep your hips anchored and level as you turn to the side. Extend energy through the back arm even as you reach forward.

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