How to Do the Hundred in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

The Hundred
Ben Goldstein

Targets: Abdominals

Equipment: Exercise mat

Level: Beginner

The hundred is a classic Pilates mat exercise. You will be asked to perform it during the beginning of almost any Pilates class you take. The exercise is named after the 100 beats of your arms made while holding your legs extended and your head and shoulders off the mat. Joseph Pilates introduced the hundred as the first exercise of the matwork series in his book "Return to Life Through Contrology." 

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Watch Now: How to Do the Classic Pilates Hundred Like a Pro

Benefits

The hundred is a dynamic warm-up for the abdominals and lungs. It requires that you coordinate your breath with the movement and be strong and graceful at the same time. It recruits the abdominal muscles, including the laterals, and develops scapular and trunk stabilization. It is challenging, but the hundred is an easy exercise to modify if you have back or neck issues or you need to make it easier or more difficult.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Lie on your back. Raise your legs and bend them at the knee in the tabletop position with your shins and ankles parallel to the floor.

  1. Inhale.
  2. Exhale. Bring your head up with your chin down and, using your abdominal muscles, curl your upper spine up off the floor to the base of your shoulder blades. Keep the shoulders sliding down and engaged in the back. Your gaze is down into the scoop of the abs. Stay here and inhale.
  3. Exhale. At the same time, deepen the pull of the abs and extend your arms and legs. Your legs reach toward where the wall and ceiling meet in front of you. You can adjust them higher if need be, or lower for more advanced work. Your legs should only be as low as you can go without shaking and without the lower spine pulling up off the mat. Your arms extend straight and low, just a few inches off the floor, with the fingertips reaching for the far wall.
  4. Hold your position. Take five short breaths in and five short breaths out (like sniffing in and puffing out). While doing so, move your arms in a controlled up and down manner—a small but dynamic pumping of the arms. Be sure to keep your shoulders and neck relaxed. It is the abdominal muscles that should be doing all the work.
  1. Do a cycle of 10 full breaths. Each cycle is five short in-breaths and then five short out-breaths. The arms pump up and down—about a 6-inch to 8-inch pump—in unison with your breath. Keep your abs scooped, your back flat on the floor, and your head an extension of your spine, with the gaze down. Breathing big is important. Breathe into your back and sides. If this is unfamiliar to you, practice your lateral breathing.
  2. To finish, keep your spine curved as you bring your knees in toward your chest. Grasp your knees and roll your upper spine and head down to the floor. Take a deep breath in and out.

Common Mistakes

With your head raised off the mat, you might find yourself with your chin pointed up at the ceiling. This increases the tension in your neck. Instead, it should be tucked down towards your chest, but still leaving enough room that you could be cradling an egg between your chin and your chest.

Don't allow your legs to go too low and cause you to arch your back. If that happens you will be using your back muscles instead of your abs.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

People with upper back and neck issues can do this exercise with the legs extended or tabletop but the head down on the mat.

  • In the least challenging modification, you can keep your head on the mat and keep your feet on the mat (with bent knees). Once you are able to master that position, you can begin alternating raising one leg into tabletop position while keeping the other foot on the mat. Switch your legs halfway through the exercise.
  • To modify the hundred, you can keep your legs in tabletop position. This will be less challenging than doing it with extended legs. In this position, your back is on the floor, your legs are raised, and your knees are best so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Your lower legs form a flat, level "tabletop" while your thighs are the table legs. You can also do the exercise with your knees bent and the feet flat on the floor, lifting only the upper body.

Up for a Challenge?

To make the hundred more challenging, lower your legs, but do not lower your legs past where you can control the movement. A 45-degree angle is enough. Don't let your spine peel up off the floor as you lower the legs.

Safety and Precautions

If you feel any neck strain, return your head to the mat and do the hundred with your head on the mat. If you have a pelvic floor problem, you may wish to avoid the hundred as it places downward pressure on the pelvic floor. After the mid-point of pregnancy, exercises such as the hundred where you are lying on your back should be avoided.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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