12 Pilates Exercises to Work Your Core in 15 Minutes

This set of Pilates exercises is designed to provide you with an at-home Pilates routine and help you build familiarity with Pilates mat exercises, whether you are new or experienced. These exercises develop the core strength, stability, and flexibility for which Pilates is famous.

The muscular focus for each exercise is noted so you can target your routine. Please keep in mind that all Pilates exercises engage the core abdominal muscles. Feel free to choose any from the list for an ab workout. There are modification notes in the full instructions for each exercise.

The warm-up set of exercises are very important in teaching the foundations of Pilates movement. They also prepare the body for safely executing more challenging exercises later. Even if you skip the later moves, choose at least two or three warm-up moves to begin each Pilates routine you do. Grab a mat and begin.


Ab Scoop


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Exercise: Chest Lift/Ab Scoop

Target area: Abdominals—especially the six-pack or rectus abdominis

This is not a crunch. The abdominals must be pulled way down into a deep scoop as you use them to control a slow, smooth curl up and roll down. Precision in this type of scoop is one of the secrets of Pilates.


The Hundred


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Exercise: The Hundred

Target area: Abdominals, breathing

Your abdominals will be deeply pulled in, so you will have to use your full lung capacity by breathing into your back and lower ribs. Use your abs to hold yourself up—don't let your neck and shoulders do all the work.


The Roll Up


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Exercise: The Roll Up

Target area: Abdominals

Use your abdominals to roll up and down with control. Do not rely on momentum or letting your legs lift off the mat. Pilates is about control, and this is where you build that control.


One Leg Circle


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Exercise: One Leg Circle

Target area: Abdominals, thighs, hip flexors

The abdominals keep the pelvis stable as the leg moves. No rocking and rolling! Be sure to use your full range of motion without losing control.


Rolling Like a Ball


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Exercise: Rolling Like a Ball

Target area: Abdominals, spinal mobility

Stay in your curve for the whole exercise. Initiate the roll back with the abs and not by falling back or using momentum.


Open Leg Balance


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Exercise: Open Leg Balance

Target area: Abdominals, hamstring mobility

Use your abdominals and back muscles to control the pose. Try to work with the straightest arms and legs possible. If it doesn't work at first, keep practicing. You'll get there!


The Side Kick Series


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Exercise: Side Kick Series

Target area: Abdominals, all thigh muscles—especially inner thigh

Work the torso as well as the legs. The ribs should stay supported throughout each repetition. Do not let them sink to the mat.


Front Support/Plank


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Exercise: Front Support/Plank

Target area: Back extensors, abdominals, shoulders, arms

Stay in one line from your heels to your ears. Though the focus is somewhat on the upper body, if you engage the legs and imagine squeezing the gluteals together, the exercise will be easier.




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Exercise: Saw

Target area: Hamstrings, inner thigh, obliques, back mobility

Keep your hips anchored and level as you twist to the side. Use opposition when reaching forward so that you also reach back at the same time.




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Exercise: Mermaid

Target area: Side stretch

Bend your body directly sideways as you stretch, as though you were between two sheets of glass. Keep the hip on your stretching side down.


Swan Prep


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Exercise: Swan Prep

Target area: Back extensors, abdominal stretch

Swan provides a wonderful counter stretch to the many forward flexion exercises we do in Pilates. This is an everyday move.


Wall Roll Down

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Exercise: Wall Roll Down

Target area: Abdominals, back, and hamstring stretch

Use this exercise as a transition from doing your Pilates routine to carrying good posture into your daily life. Squeeze this move into your daily routine.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fleming KM, Herring MP. The effects of pilates on mental health outcomes: A meta-analysis of controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. 2018;37:80-95. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2018.02.003

  2. Byrnes K, Wu PJ, Whillier S. Is Pilates an effective rehabilitation tool? A systematic review. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2018;22(1):192-202. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2017.04.008

By Marguerite Ogle MS, RYT
Marguerite Ogle is a freelance writer and experienced natural wellness and life coach, who has been teaching Pilates for more than 35 years.