Pilates Exercises You Can Do in Bed

Pilates exercises have a long history of being practiced in bed. In fact, many people see the genesis of Joseph Pilates' exercises and equipment in the work he did helping to rehabilitate fellow detainees on the Isle of Man in WWI and injured soldiers after the war, much of which we know occurred in and around beds. Throughout his life, Joseph Pilates remained concerned with the lifestyle and rehabilitative aspects of his work and he even patented his own design for a bed—a V shape.

Joseph Pilates' method, Contrology as he called it, can take people all the way to the heights of fitness so most Pilates exercises cannot be practiced in bed, but many of the principles of the exercises can. Instructor Siri Galliano has adapted the six familiar Pilates mat exercises for those who need or want to exercise in bed.

These exercises are not prescriptions of any kind and those who have health concerns should discuss exercise plans with their healthcare practitioner. Beginners will also want to familiarize themselves with the Pilates principles and movement fundamentals.

These exercises are no wider or bigger or longer than your own body. Minimized, mat exercises can be done for the ill or injured, or to calm yourself. Done dynamically, they wake up your circulation and nervous system after a long night's sleep.


Young woman doing spinal twist pose on bed outdoors
PhotoAlto/Milena Boniek/Getty Image

Start with consciously breathing.

  1. On your back, lengthen your arms and legs, your back and neck, and take control of your breathing.
  2. Consciously scan your body to feel its condition. Feel the ribs expand sideways as you inhale, counting slowly for five seconds until your lungs are full.
  3. Exhale evenly, closing the ribs and pulling the abdomen in, squeezing out all the air.
  4. Repeat this nine more times.

Pilates Tendon Stretch Exercise Adapted for Bed

The tendon stretch is often done on the Pilates reformer. This adapts it for use in bed.

  1. Bring your heels together and push your heels away as you stretch your toes toward your head for three seconds.
  2. Then point the toes away from you.
  3. Repeat nine more times.

Pilates Double Leg Stretch Exercise Adapted for Bed

Double leg stretch is an intermediate exercise that works the abdominals, radiating from the core powerhouse.

  1. Bring both knees to your chest and hold onto your ankles, stretching your lower back.
  2. Hold the position for 10 long, deep breaths, pulling in the abdomen on the exhale to massage the inner digestive organs and to release the gas from the intestines.

Pilates Single Leg Circle Exercise Adapted for Bed

The single leg circle challenges your core strength and pelvic stability. It also strengthens the quads and hamstrings and promotes a healthy hip joint.

  1. Raise your right leg straight up. If you can, hold the toes with both hands. If you cannot hold your toes, hold onto your calf or thigh and reach your heel to the ceiling.
  2. Lengthen the left leg away from you.
  3. Hold this position for the 10 count breath.
  4. Release your hands, and place your arms and hands long by your sides.
  5. Make 10 small circles in each direction with your extended leg to lubricate the hip joint.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

Pelvic Lift Exercise

The pelvic lift is another exercise usually done on the reformer.

  1. Bend your knees and have your feet on the bed hip distance apart.
  2. Curl your pelvis towards your ribs, squeeze your buttocks, and lift your lower body for a count of five seconds.
  3. Slowly lower your back down to a count of five seconds, imprinting the spine into the mattress.
  4. Repeat nine times.

Hip Opening Exercise

This hip-opening exercise might be called the frog.

  • Bring the soles of your feet together as close to your torso as you can, and let your knees open up.
  • Rest there a breathe deeply.

Siri Galliano has been teaching Pilates for decades. She was certified as a Pilates instructor by Romana Kryzanowska. She travels around the country and the world educating teachers. Siri is the founder of the Big Bear Pilates Festival and maintains a Pilates studio in Big Bear, California.​

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