15 Full-Body Pilates Workouts For Strength And Conditioning

by Charushila Biswas
ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition

Pilates exercises are the best to build a strong core, improve balance and posture, manage low back pain, rehabilitate injuries, and enhance endurance (1), (2), (3). The slow and controlled movements in Pilates activate the right muscles to burn calories and improve muscle tone, balance, and flexibility. All you need are a good yoga mat and step-by-step instructions. Here are 15 Pilates exercises you can do anywhere and strengthen your core. Swipe up!

15 Effective Pilates Workouts

1. Saw 

Target – Abs, obliques, and lower back 

How To Do

  1. Sit on a mat. Keep your legs extended and mat-width apart, and arms straight out to your sides. This is your starting position.
  2. Engage your core, twist to your left, and try to touch your left foot with your light palm. Pulse 3 times.
  3. Twist back up to the starting position.
  4. Do the same on the other side as well.
  5. Perform 5 sets of 2 reps.

2. Mermaid

Target – Obliques, lats, and hip flexors 

How To Do

  1. Kneel down on a mat. Push your weight to the right by resting your hips on the floor and keeping both the legs folded but very close to your hips.
  2. Lift your right hand and place your left hand on the mat. Keep your elbow flexed, and palm flat on the mat.
  3. Slowly bend your upper torso to the left and feel the stretch. Stretch twice.
  4. Change sides and repeat the same on the opposite side.
  5. Perform 5 sets of 2 reps.

 3. Abdominal Curl

Target – Upper and lower abs 

How To Do

  1. Lie down on a mat with your hands behind your head, knees flexed, and feet flat on the mat.
  2. Push your pelvis down on the mat to prevent the curving of the lower back.
  3. Breathe out slowly and lift your upper body. Look straight and avoid tucking your neck in.
  4. Breathe in and hold the pose for a moment.
  5. Breathe out and slowly roll back down to the starting position.
  6. Perform 2 sets of 8 reps.

4. Pilates Scissor

Target – Upper legs (quads and hamstrings) glutes, and lower abs

How To Do

  1. Lie down on a mat. Keep your knees flexed, feet flat on the floor, and hands by the sides of your body.
  2. Extend both the legs to the ceiling.
  3. Inhale and lengthen the back of your neck.
  4. Exhale and lift the upper body off the mat.
  5. Inhale and then exhale to pull your right leg towards you and lengthen away from the left leg.
  6. Inhale to change the legs and pull the left leg towards you and lengthen away from the right leg.
  7. Do 3 sets of 5 reps.

 5. Pilates Bicycle

Target – Quads, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, lower back, and lower abs 

How To Do

  1. Lie down on a mat with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and hands by the sides of your body.
  2. Lift both your legs off the floor, push your hips up, and support the lower back with your hands. This is the starting position.
  3. Extend your legs up.
  4. Pull your right let towards you and lengthen your left leg.
  5. Start cycling in the air.
  6. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

 6. Bridge

Target – Glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abs

How To Do

  1. Lie down on a mat with your knees flexed, feet flat on the floor, and hands by your side. Make sure your tailbone touches the floor completely.
  2. Push your hips up slowly. Squeeze your glutes. Keep breathing.
  3. Lower your hips back to the starting position slowly.
  4. Do 3 sets of 8 reps. 

7. Criss Cross

Target – Abs, shoulders, glutes, and obliques 

How To Do

  1. Lie down on a mat. Place your hands on the back of your head, and gently lift your head. Simultaneously, lift your legs so that they are at 30 degrees with the floor.
  2. Flex your right knee and bring it closer to your chest. At the same time, twist to your right and bring your left elbow close to the right knee.
  3. Get back to the starting position and do the same on the other side.
  4. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

8. Pilates Hundred

Target – Abs, upper back, and glutes 

How To Do

  1. Lie down on your back. Place your hands by your sides, and palms flat on the floor. Keep your core muscles engaged.
  2. Lift both the legs off the floor, flex your knees, and bring them close to the chest.
  3. Lift your head, neck, and upper back off the floor and then extend your legs up, forming a 60-degree angle with the floor.
  4. Hold your core tight, and keeping your hands straight and palms down, move your hands up and down quickly. Breathe in and out at the same pace as you move your hands.
  5. Do this 5 times and then rest.
  6. Perform 3 sets of 5 reps.

9. Donkey Kick (With Exercise Ball)

Target – Glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, and lower abs 

How To Do

  1. Get on all fours.
  2. Place a small exercise ball on the back of your right knee. Keep your neck and back in one line, shoulders rolled back, toes curled toward the floor for support, and look at the floor.
  3. Lift your right leg toward the ceiling. Make sure not to drop the ball.
  4. Do this 10 times before switching legs.
  5. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps in each leg. 

10. Elbow To Knee Bird Dog

Target – Abs, glutes, shoulders, hamstrings, and quads

How To Do

  1. Get on all the fours.
  2. Engage your core and extend your right hand ahead and your left leg back. Point your toes. Look at the floor.
  3. Crunch and bring your left knee and right elbow together.
  4. Place the right palm and left knee on the floor.
  5. Do the same with the right knee and left hand.
  6. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

11. Single Leg Stretch

Target – Hamstrings, quads, calves, and glutes 

How To Do

  1. Lie down on a mat. Keep your knees flexed and feet flat on the mat.
  2. Lift your legs and lock your fingers to hold the knees right above your pelvis.
  3. Lift your head and look at the top of your knees. This is the starting position.
  4. Lock your fingers on the right knee and stretch out the left leg.
  5. Hold it for a moment and bring your left leg back to the starting position.
  6. Lock your left leg and stretch the right.
  7. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

12. Wall Chair

Target – Hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves, lower abs, lower back. 

How To Do

  1. Stand with your back against the wall. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and about 20 inches away from the wall.
  2. Raise your hands. Keep them extended forward.
  3. Flex your knees and slowly slide down into a sitting position.
  4. Hold this position for 3 seconds and slowly get back up.
  5. Do 3 sets of 5 reps.

13. Pilates Full Plank

Target – Abs, lower back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and shoulders 

How To Do

  1. Lie down on your belly with your toes curled in, elbows flexed, and palms flat on the mat.
  2. Push your hips up and lift your upper body.
  3. Taking the support of your knees, lift your butt and get into an elbow plank, as shown in the image above.
  4. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Engage your core and keep breathing.
  5. Do 3 sets of 30-60 seconds plank hold.

14. Side Lying Leg Lift

Target – Adductors, hip flexors, obliques, and lower back

How To Do 

  1. Lie on your left side, flex your left elbow, and place your left upper arm on the floor. Rest your head on your left palm. Keep your left leg extended, flex your right knee, and place your right foot in front of your left thigh, and the right foot flat on the floor. Keep your right palm on the mat, close to your chest, for support. This is the starting position.
  2. Keeping your left leg straight, lift it off the floor and then pulse it up and down 10 times.
  3. Do the same on the other side.
  4. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

15. Rolling Like A Ball

Target – Back, spine, and abs 

How To Do

  1. Sit on a mat with your knees flexed. Place your feet close to each other. Place a hand on each foot. Lift your feet off the floor, keep your knees hip-width apart, and look at your knees. This is the starting position.
  2. Push yourself back and roll on your back until the back of your shoulders touches the mat, and your knees are close to your nose.
  3. Push your body back up to the starting position.
  4. Do 3 sets of 4 reps.

Here is why you should include Pilates in your workout regimen.

Benefits Of Pilates 

  • Helps strengthen the core (4), (5).
  • Helps build stamina (6).
  • Improves muscle function (7).
  • Reduces joint and muscle pain (8).
  • Aids weight loss (9).
  • Improves flexibility (7).
  • Heightens mind-body awareness.
  • Relieves stress (10).
  • Increases energy levels (10).
  • Strengthens the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Improves posture (7).
  • Prevents injuries.
  • Reduces depression and anxiety (10).
  • Improves balance and posture (11).
  • Helps rehabilitate people with multiple sclerosis (12).
  • Helps rehabilitate lower back pain (13).
  • Improves sleep quality in sedentary people and new mothers (14), (15).
  • May be a safe exercise option for people recovering from cancer (16).
  • Improves cardiorespiratory fitness (17).
  • Helps reduce blood pressure (18).

Conclusion 

Pilates is a great form of exercise to improve fitness, strengthen the core, and boost your overall health. Do the above-mentioned Pilates workouts, and you will see a visible difference in three weeks. Make sure you consult your fitness instructor and eat healthy foods.

Expert’s Answers for Readers Questions

Is Pilates good exercise for weight loss?

Yes, Pilates is a great way to burn calories, build lean muscle, boost metabolism, and shed some serious pounds. It improves fitness, flexibility, and endurance, which helps improve your strength training performance in the gym as well.

Can you lose belly fat by doing Pilates?

Absolutely! Pilates exercises help burn calories and target ab muscles. This, in turn, helps whittle away the extra belly fat and get a slim and toned midsection.

Does Pilates get rid of love handles?

Yes, Pilates exercises like side lying leg lifts, side crunches, scissor lifts, and bicycles can help you get rid of love handles. Here are a few more exercises to get rid of love handles.

How often should you do Pilates?

You can do Pilates exercises thrice a week.

Is Pilates alone enough exercise?

It depends on what your goal is. If you want a slim and svelte figure that’s also strong and fit, only Pilates will work for you. However, if you want to bulk up, you must include strength training at least twice a week.

Is Pilates harder than yoga?

No, Pilates is not harder than yoga.

 Can fat people do Pilates?

Anyone can do Pilates. With practice, you will get better, feel better, and become more confident about your Pilate skills. It has got nothing to do with size.

18 sources

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Charushila Biswas

Charushila Biswas is a Senior Content Writer and an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition. She is an alumni of VIT University, Vellore and has worked on transgenic wheat as a part of her Masters dissertation from NRCPB (IARI), New Delhi. After completing her Masters, she developed a passion for nutrition and fitness, which are closely related to human psychology. This prompted her to author a review article in 2015. She has written over 200 articles on Fitness and Nutrition. In her leisure time, Charushila loves to cook and enjoys mobile photography.
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