Pilates 101: Best Pilates Exercises for Beginners

If your fitness goal is long, lean, sculpted muscles, pilates is the perfect solution. While it focuses on core stability, building abdominal strength (good for toned abs), and breathing techniques, frequent pilates workouts also emphasize the arms, hips, and thighs. If you’re new to pilates, here are the five best exercises to start with.

5 Leg Circles

Get trimmer, slimmer thighs and toned abs with this double-duty move. The name pretty much says it all, just make sure that you don’t arch your back and keep your lower abs tight and engaged.How to do leg circles: Start by lying on your back with your legs extended along the floor. Raise your right leg so that it’s perpendicular to the floor. For the first set of five reps, inhale as your move your leg across your body to the left then exhale to open it up to the right side and circle up. For the second set of five reps, exhale to open the leg and circle down then inhale across the body. Lower your leg back to the floor and repeat on the left leg.

4 Breast Stroke

No need for a pool with this move, just you and your mat. But just like the swimming stroke, it strengthens your upper back muscles and increases the mobility in your shoulders.How to do the breast stroke: Lie on your stomach with your hands by your shoulders and your toes anchored to the mat. Lift your upper body a few inches off the floor. Reach your arms out in front of you then swing your arms back around behind you. Repeat for eight to 10 breath cycles. If your back isn’t strong enough yet, you can modify the pose by staying the starting position with your upper body supported by your hands directly in front of your chest then raise and lower your chest to the ground.

3 Hip Lift

Target your lower back, hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings in one simple yet effective exercise. It may seem easy, but if you really concentrate on squeezing your butt and thigh muscles for the entire move, you’ll start to feel the burn after just a few reps.How to do the hip lift: Begin by lying down on your mat with your knees bent and your feet touching your butt. Leave your arms on the mat straight by your side. Inhale to prep yourself, then exhale to raise your lower body off the floor. Just your feet, arms, shoulders, and head should be touching the floor. Make sure you don’t hyperextend your spine at the top but keep it straight. Exhale back down and repeat for eight to 10 reps.

2 Half Roll Back

Incorporate this move into your next workout to sculpt a strong, tight core. It forces your abdominal muscles to support the weight of your upper body, but the key to this move is to keep your spine in neutral alignment — neither arched back or hunched over.How to do the half roll back: Start in a seated position with your knees bent and your hands on your knees. Keeping your abs tight and your spine straight, lower your upper body halfway toward the floor as you exhale. Then inhale as you raise yourself back up to the starting position. Hold your arms out straight in front of you and parallel to the floor throughout the range of motion.

1 The Hundred

This is easily the most well-known pilates move. It’s great as a warm-up move, but it also strengthens your abdominal muscles and helps you focus on breathing correctly.How to do the hundred: Lie on your back with your feet extended out and arms by your side. Raise your legs to a 45° angle to the floor and your upper body a few inches off the floor. Hover your hands over the floor and pump them up and down about six to eight inches. As you do this, take five short breaths in followed by five short breaths out. Do this for 10 cycles of five in, five out (100 breaths) before lowering back down to the starting position.

With the combination of breathing techniques and these toning moves, you’ll have tighter abs and leaner thighs and feel toned all over. Run through all these moves (or others that you find) and put them into your workout two to three times per week for best results.

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