Pilates – What Is It, How To Do, And Benefits

by Charushila Biswas
ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness & Nutrition

Pilates is the BEST exercise for building a strong core and reducing lower back pain (1), (2), (3). It was developed by Joseph Pilates during the World War I to rehabilitate injured soldiers. He brought Western and Eastern fitness together to increase strength, flexibility, posture, and balance effectively (4). No wonder that today, about 100 years later, dancers, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts practice Pilates regularly. The best part – Pilates is for everyone. You will benefit from it tremendously if you practice it for 10-45 minutes regularly. This article lists the best Pilates workouts, their benefits, and much more. So, give this post a quick read. Swipe up!

What Is Pilates And How Does It Work?


Pilates is a combination of simple exercises done repeatedly to help build a strong core. Your core, i.e., all the body parts except your limbs, are responsible for generating power to lift objects, move, twist, and bend. Pilates work and strengthen the muscles of your abs, back, glutes, and chest. It includes a mix of yoga, ballet, and calisthenics.

As a beginner, you must know the six principles of Pilates to have a deeper understanding of how you can perfectly execute every exercise. Scroll down to find out what they are.

6 Principles Of Pilates

To know the six principles of Pilates and how they came to be, let’s first get to know how the idea of Pilates came to Joseph Pilates. Joseph suffered from various diseases as a child. He was weak and fragile. So, he traveled in search of that ultimate body strengthening exercise. He studied yoga, Zen meditation, martial arts, and Roman and Greek exercises. And during World War I, he started using a combination of all his research on different exercises on injured soldiers. Doctors soon noticed that the patients were able to recover quickly, and from there on, “Pilates method” was used extensively to aid soldiers’ recovery. In around 1920, Joseph Pilates landed in New York, and many dancers took up Pilates to improve their movement, balance, and flexibility. In fact, athletes started Pilates exercises to improve endurance and strength (5). Interesting, right? So, what was he doing right? This is where the six principles of Pilates come into the picture.

  1. Centering – Your core is the “center” of all the power generated to do all the movements. He used this knowledge to design exercises that help strengthen the core.
  2. Concentration – Focusing your brain on your body movements will help you engage all your muscles and do the exercises with 100% precision.
  3. Breath – Breathing is very important in Pilates. Exhaling and inhaling air in a rhythm allows oxygenation and detoxification of all cells and tissues.
  4. Control – Controlling your movements, brain, and breath to execute each exercise with precision instead of depending on the number of reps.
  5. Precision – Pilates is all about precision. The more precise and focused you are, the more you will learn and benefit from Pilates.
  6. Fluidity – The transition from one exercise or movement to the other without a static or sudden movement. The exercises flow from one exercise to the other.

These are the six principles of Pilates (6). There are two types of Pilates – Mat Pilates and Reformer Pilates. Let’s take a look at how you can differentiate between the two.

Difference Between Mat And Reformer Pilates


  • Mat Pilates – You do Pilates exercises on a mat and work on your lower and upper back, stomach, and legs. Your body weight will act as a resistance, and every core muscle will be recruited to do the mat Pilates exercises. You will be in full control of your brain and body. Mat Pilates is the best for beginners.
  • Reformer Pilates – The reformer Pilates uses a Pilates equipment that was developed by Joseph Pilates and used during World War I to help the soldiers recover from injuries. It has a narrow bed with pulleys, straps, and slides. These help assist your body movement and target bigger muscles and increase the versatility of muscles.

Now that you know everything you need to know about Pilates, let’s move on to the 10 best Pilates exercises for beginners.

10 Best Pilates Exercises For Beginners

1. Pilates 100

Target – Abs, upper back, and glutes.

How To Do Pilates 100
  1. Lie down on your back. Place your hands by your sides, and palms flat on the floor. Keep your core 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. Breath in and out at the same pace as you move your hands.
  5. Do this five times and then rest.
Sets And Reps

3 sets of 5 reps

2. Single Leg Circles

Target – Abs and glutes.

How To Do Single Leg Circles
  1. Lie down on a mat with your core engaged, shoulders relaxed, legs straight, hands by your side, and palms flat on the floor.
  2. Flex your knees, and bend both the legs. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Lift your right leg off the floor. Extend your right leg up so that it is perpendicular to the floor.
  4. Keeping your right leg straight, circle your right leg to your left shoulder to your right shoulder and back to your nose.
  5. Do this 5 times and then do the same with your left leg.
Sets And Reps

3 sets of 5 reps with each leg

3. Mermaid

Target – Obliques, lats, and hip flexors.

How To Do Mermaid
  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 straight and place your left hand on the mat. Keep your elbow flexed, and palm flat on the mat.
  3. Slowly bend to your left and feel the stretch. Stretch twice.
  4. Change sides and repeat the same on the opposite side.
Sets And Reps

5 sets of 2 reps

4. Saw

Target – Abs, obliques, and lower back.

How To Do Saw
  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 three times.
  3. Twist back up to the starting position.
  4. Do the same on the other side as well.
Sets And Reps

5 sets of 2 reps

5. Criss Cross

Target – Abs, shoulders, glutes, and obliques.

How To Do Criss Cross
  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.
Sets And Reps

3 sets of 10 reps

6. Side Lying Leg Abduction

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

How To Do Side Lying Leg Abduction
  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.
Sets And Reps

3 sets of 10 reps on each side

7. Pilates Back Bow

Target – Lats, chest, glutes, and abs.

How To Do Pilates Back Bow
  1. Lie down on your stomach. Flex your elbows, and place your hands on the mat at the shoulder level. Keep your legs extended, and toes pointed out. This is the starting position.
  2. Lift your head, chest, and thighs off the floor. Push your elbows back.
  3. Pause for a moment and then lower your body back to the starting position.
Sets And Reps

3 sets of 5 reps

8. Rolling Like A Ball

Target – Back, spine, and abs.

How To Do Rolling Like A Ball
  1. Sit on a mat with your knees flexed, and place your feet close to each other. Place each 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 touch the mat, and your knees are close to your nose.
  3. And then push your body back up to the starting position.
Sets And Reps

3 sets of 4 reps

9. Open Leg Balance

Target – Abs and hamstrings.

How To Do Open Leg Balance
  1. Sit on a mat with your knees flexed, and feet placed close to each other. Place each hand on each foot.
  2. Lift your feet off the floor, keep your knees hip-width apart, and slowly extend your legs up so that they are about 60 degrees with the floor. Lean back a little for support, and keep your back straight.
  3. Slowly lower your legs and repeat.
Sets And Reps

3 sets of 5 reps

10. Front Plank

Target – Abs, shoulders, and glutes.

How To Do Front Plank
  1. Get on all your fours or assume the Table Pose. Keep your feet pointed out.
  2. Engage your core and extend your right leg back. Flex your toes to support your lower body.
  3. Extend your left leg back, flex your toes, and balance your body.
  4. Hold this pose for 20-30 seconds.
Sets And Reps

3 sets of 30 seconds hold

These are the 10 best and easy Pilates workouts that you can do at home. Now, if you are still not sure if you should take up Pilates, go through the following list of benefits.

Benefits Of Pilates

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

  • Helps strengthen the core.
  • Helps build stamina.
  • Improves muscle function.
  • Reduces joint and muscle pain.
  • Aids weight loss.
  • Improves flexibility.
  • Heightens mind-body awareness.
  • Relieves stress.
  • Increases energy levels.
  • Strengthens the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Improves posture.
  • Prevents injuries.

So, you see, there is almost no reason you shouldn’t do Pilates. It will not only build an impressive physical structure but also offers tremendous mental gains. Discuss with your trainer today and get started with this beautiful, almost ballet-like exercise routine. Cheers!

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Charushila Biswas

Charushila Biswas is a Senior Content Writer and an ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist. 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. And that 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.