Top 10 Pilates Exercises


1. Roll down

A picture containing person, player, female

Stand with your feet hips width apart.
Breathe in and roll your head and upper chest downwards from the top of your spine by bringing your chin towards your chest opening your neck.
Curl into yourself, gathering your tummy allow your arms and shoulder blades hang freely on either side.
When your hands are around knee level, take a breath in.
As your breath out, gather your tummy in.  
Roll your body back up, pulling from the lower back muscles.
Let your shoulders hang loosely to the side through the entire movement.
At the end of the movement unfold the neck to and bring your shoulder blades back to return to the start position.

Key benefits:

  • Good for spine mobility
  • Relives tightness and tension throughout your neck, mid back and lower back
  • Stretches the backs of your legs
  • Activates the core muscles
  • Helps to regulate your breathing

Good for: People with lower back pain, people with desk-based jobs and pre and post exercises as it helps mobilise and stretch the whole spine in a controlled way. 

2. Swimming prep

A picture containing sport, outdoor, gymnastics

Start on your hands and knees, with your hands under your shoulders, and knees under your hips.
Tighten the abdominal core muscles.
Extend the opposite leg and the opposite arm simultaneously, making sure your maintain good control in your torso.
Do not allow your body or hips to rotate.
Repeat on the other side.

To make this exercise harder you can add a looped resistance band just above your knees. 

Key benefits

  • Improves stability
  • Encourages a neutral spine
  • Helps to relieve lower back pain
  • Activates/strengthens the erector spinae, rectus abdominus and gluteals
  • The muscles worked in this exercise helps improve movement, control and stability of the whole body

Good for: People with lower back pain, hypermobility, runners and cyclists and the general population as it helps improves balance and posture.

3. Plank on knees/ full plank

A picture containing Plank on knees/ full plank

Lie down on a mat on your front.
Lift your chest up off the floor using your forearms.
Lift your hips up, keeping your knees on the floor (for full plank lift legs as well, putting your weight through your feet and forearms).
You should have a straight line from your knees to your shoulders (for full plank you should have a straight line form your shoulders to your feet).
Keep your shoulders strong and do not sink down at the hips or the chest.
Hold for as long as you can keeping your bottom squeezed.
Relax and return to the starting position.

Key benefits:

  • Builds core strength and control
  • Improves alignments and helps with posture
  • Helps improve should strength and stability 
  • Helps improve wrist mobility and strength
  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Activates/ strengthens your core (Transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, internal obliques, external obliques), shoulders, back muscles and gluteals. 

Good for: Anyone that enjoys sport and exercise or that are wanting to improve athletic performance, people with a history of lower back pain and people that want to improve their posture, good for runners and cyclists.

4. Shell stretch

A person lying on a yoga mat

Position yourself in the Table Top position, with your knees bent and your hands under your shoulders.
Shift your body to the Rest position, sitting back down on your heels.
Straighten your arms out in front of you and relax your back with your pelvis sinking down onto your heels.
Focus on the lateral breathing, keep breathing fully and relaxing deeper with every breath.
Lengthen your spine and stretch your lower back, imaging your vertebrae open outwards.

Key benefits:

  • Stretches your lower back muscles
  • Improves mobility in your lower back
  • Increased knee flexion and hip mobility
  • Helps improve shoulder mobility
  • Helps regulate breathing control
  • Good for acute lower back pain

Good for: people with lower back pain, post exercise for a cool down and good for people wanting to improve their general mobility. 

5. Clam Shell - Level 1

Clam Shell - Level 1

Lie on your side with your feet, ankles and knees together.
Bend the legs a little and tighten your core stability muscles.
Keeping the feet together, lift the top knee up.
Make sure you don't roll your body back with the movement.
Control the movement as you bring the knee back down to the starting position.

To make this exercise harder you can add a looped resistance band just above your knees. 

Key benefits:

  • Improves hip stabilisation, power and balance
  • Helps improve the control and stability around your lower back, taking less load off your lower back muscles by activating and strengthening your gluteals
  • Improves the strength of your glute med, which intern helps protect your lower back and improve your biomechanics
  • Reduces risk of injury throughout lower body by improving hip stability

Good for: People with poor hip stability and control, people with lower back pain, people with recurrent lower limb injuries, runners and cyclists.

6. Arm opening 

Arm opening 

Lie on your side with your head resting on a small cushion.
Bend both legs at a 45 degree angle to the hips, keeping them together and straighten your arms out in front of your body with one arm on top of the other.
INHALE: raise your top arm up towards the ceiling, followed by your head and upper body
EXHALE: continue rotating the spine, as you lower your straight arm further down
INHALE: bring your arm back, reaching to the ceiling
EXHALE: lower your arm down to the starting position
Allow your head to follow the movement of your arm.
Hold the stretch and engage your abdominals as you bring your arm back over and down to the starting position.

Key benefits:

  • Activating the muscles around your shoulder
  • Works on shoulder stability
  • Stretches and mobilises your spine
  • Stretches your chest

Good for: People who spend a lot of time at a desk, people who are stiff through their mid back, people with back pain and cyclists.

7. Tabletop with alternating lower limb and opposite upper limb

Tabletop with alternating lower limb and opposite upper limb

Lie on your back and bring your legs up to a table-top position with your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees.
Ensure there is a slight hollow in the small of your back.
Relax your upper body as you extend one leg down to the floor, whilst simultaneously raising the opposite arm up and overhead.
Maintain the table-top position with your other leg.
Do not allow your lower back to arch.
Bring this arm and leg back to the starting position and repeat with the other pair.
Ensure you keep your core strong throughout this exercise.

Key benefits:

  • Improves core strength
  • Increases the control around your core and lower back
  • Improves hip mobility
  • Strengthens hip and thigh muscles
  • Helps improve co-ordination 

Good for: People that engage in all sports and exercise, people with lower back pain, people wanting to improve their core strength. 

8. Single leg stretch - Level 2

Single leg stretch - Level 2

Lie on your back with your legs in the Tabletop position (hips and knees bent at 90 degrees) with a hand on each knee and your head and shoulders raised off the mat. Ensure your abdominal muscles are pulled in towards your spine.
EXHALE: extend one leg upwards to 45 degrees off the mat, shift your hands onto your bent knee.
INHALE: switch legs.
EXHALE: stretch the other leg outwards.
INHALE: switch legs while maintaining your body in a stable position.
Continue switching legs smoothly and ensure your feet remain at the same level throughout the exercise and your body remains in a stable position.

Key benefits: 

  • Strengthens the core/ abdominals
  • Improves core and back control
  • Works deep neck flexors
  • Strengthens hip and thigh muscles

Good for: People wanting to improve their core control, people with back pain, runners and people who have desk-based jobs. 

9. The Saw

The Saw

Sit upright with your legs stretched out at shoulder width apart with your feet Dorsi-flexed and your toes pointed towards the ceiling.
Your arms into a T position with the palms facing to the front.
INHALE: rotate your upper body to the side.
EXHALE: reach forward so your hand is outside of the opposite foot, rotate and lower your other hand down.
INHALE: extend your spine and move to the upright position.
EXHALE: return to the starting position and switch sides.
Rotate your upper body keeping your hips stable.
Your arm crosses the leg when you reach forward with your hand in front of your little toe.

Key benefits:

  • Stretches the hamstrings
  • Activates abdominals
  • Helps stretch and mobilise the spine
  • Improves hip and spine mobility 
  • Helps improve posture

Good for: People with tight hamstrings, for example cyclists or people that spend a lot of time at a desk, people with lower back pain and people wanting to improve their mobility. 

10. Glute bridge

Glute bridge

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
Tighten your buttock muscles and lift your hips up into the bridge position.
Make sure you keep your hips up and level throughout the movement.

Note: to activate your bottom muscles more, add a resistance band just above your knees.

Key benefits: 

  • Activates hamstrings and glutes
  • Helps improve lower back pain
  • Improves back mobility

Good for: People who are wanting to improve their glute strength and hamstring strength, people with lower back pain and people wanting to improve their overall lower limb strength.

Joy Turnbull

Yoga / Pilates Instructor – including Pre & Post Natal Pilates & Massage Therapist

Joy qualified in Mat Based Pilates in 2002 and is also a qualified gym & exercise to music instructor, with GP referral & exercise for frailer adults, including the Otago qualification. Joy has also recently qualified and is working as part of our massage therapy team

Joy Turnbull

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