7 easy Pilates exercises for beginners

Strengthen your core and stretch your spine with these Pilates moves for beginners.
Published 29 September 2016 | Updated 12 June 2024

Pilates workout

Joseph Pilates developed a sequence of exercises that move your whole body, focusing on strengthening your core and lengthening your spine, both of which help to improve your posture. The classical mat exercises in this workout are a great introduction to Pilates that you can do at home. Some gyms offer what’s called ‘Reformer Pilates’ using a machine that you do the exercises on, which has springs attached for resistance.

Great for stress relief, Pilates is also excellent for all-round strength and flexibility. As it is low impact and offers various difficulty levels it is a great option if you’re just getting into exercise or well on your way.

What you need: A mat or towel.

Follow the instructions on each exercise for how many reps to do or for how long to do them. We’ve shown the easy versions, but follow the tips to push yourself, too.

1. Hundreds

The hundreds is one of the signature exercises of the Pilates method. The aim is to develop your core strength, while also improving blood circulation throughout the body. This exercise should take about a minute and it’s a good Pilates warm up.

Works: Abdominals

How-to: Lie with your back flat on the mat. Draw your belly button to your spine to anchor your back into the ground. Lift your legs and bend your knees, making sure your hips aren’t lifted. Lift your arms to a 45-degree angle. Pump your arms up and down in very small movements as you take one long breath in through your nose for five counts, then exhale (through your nose or mouth) for another five counts, pulling your belly button into your spine. Repeat 10 times (hence the name, ‘hundreds’).

For an added challenge: Straighten your legs to a 45-degree angle and bring your head and neck off the floor, just to your shoulder blades, lengthening the back of your neck while dropping your jaw.

2. Modified roll up

This move is great to create flexibility in your spine and engage your core.

Works: Abdominals

How-to: Sit on your sit bones with your knees bent, feet hip-width apart, and your hands placed slightly under your knees. Exhale as you slowly roll down into your first four vertebrae, keeping your neck lengthened and focusing on making a C-shape. Engage your core and lift out of your hips as you exhale to come back up. Complete 3-5 reps.

3. Single leg circles

The aim of single leg circles is to stabilise your hips, using your abdominal strength, creating movement and flexibility in the hip joint.

Works: Lower abdominals

How-to: Lie flat on your back on the mat with both knees bent and arms by your side, palms flat. Extend your right leg to 90 degrees and turn it out from your hip. Draw your belly button into your spine and circle your right leg in an anti-clockwise direction without moving your hips. Complete five leg circles in that direction, then do five circles clockwise. Repeat the exercise with your left leg.

4. Rolling like a ball

This move engages your core, helps release the muscles in your lower back and massages your spine.

Works: Lower back and core

How-to: Sit on the mat and bend your legs close to you, pressing the heels together. Lightly place your hands under your knees. As you engage your core, lean back slightly as you lift your feet off the floor. Lengthen the back of your neck and look to your belly button as you roll onto your first four vertebrae lifting your bottom just off the ground, then press into your hips to come back up. Complete 3-5 reps.

5. Single leg core

Use this exercise to strengthen your core muscles.

Works: Abdominals

How-to: Lie with your back flat on the mat and extend your left leg to just under 90 degrees. Hug your right leg into your chest, placing your hands lightly under your right knee. Keeping your hips anchored and belly button drawn into your spine, inhale and exhale as you switch legs. Do 6-10 reps, focusing on keeping your hips stable. For an added challenge: Curl your head and shoulders slightly off the mat and lower your extended leg.

6. Double leg core

This exercise helps to strengthen your abdominal muscles even further.

Works: Abdominals

How-to: Lie flat on your back. Inhale as you extend your legs and arms to 90 degrees, drawing your belly button into your spine and pressing your heels together. Circle your arms as you exhale, reaching forward then out to the sides, keeping your tailbone down and hips to the floor, then hug your knees into your chest, resting your hands on your ankles. Repeat 6-10 times.

7. Swimming

Here’s a great move to strengthen your back muscles.

Works: Back muscles

How-to: Lie face-down on the mat with your arms and legs extended so you’re in a long line. Draw your belly button into your spine and lift your right arm and left leg off the floor at the same time, keeping your gaze down and making sure you’re pulling your shoulder blades down. Switch sides and continue alternating for 30 seconds up to a minute.

Before starting any new exercise routine, make sure to check in with your doctor.