How to Do a Quick Pilates Workout

Use this quick Pilates workout anytime you want to go through a routine designed to give you a balanced and challenging set of Pilates exercises. This workout is appropriate for all levels. The exercises are done on an exercise mat without any additional equipment. You just need space for your mat and comfortable exercise clothing so you can go through a full range of motion with each move.


Pilates Pelvic Curl

Teaching supporting student lying on back in pilates class
Liam Norris/Cultura/Getty Images

Pelvic curl is a warm-up for the spine and abdominal muscles. It also works the lower body and helps coordinate breath and movement. It's a great way to start your quick Pilates workout.

Instructions for Pelvic Curl

  1. This exercise starts in neutral spine. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor hip-distance apart.
  2. Begin sequential breathing. Inhale to bring your breath to your chest, belly, and down to your pelvic floor. When you release your breath it is from the pelvis to the belly and then to the chest.
  3. Exhale and engage your abdominal muscles, pulling your belly button down toward your spine until your abs press your lower spine into the floor.
  4. Inhale. Press down to your feet allowing your tailbone to begin to curl up toward the ceiling. Raise your hips, then your lower spine, and then the middle spine, always keeping your legs parallel. 
  5. You are now supported on your shoulder blades by your abs and hamstrings, with a straight line from hips to shoulders. Do not arch beyond this point.
  6. Exhale and use abdominal control to roll your spine down from upper to lower, vertebrae by vertebrae, until your lower spine is on the floor.
  7. Inhale and release to neutral spine.
  8. Repeat three to five times.

The Pilates Hundred

The Hundreds
The Hundreds. Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The hundred is a classic Pilates exercise. It builds strength, stamina, and coordination. You must use your breath and really activate your powerhouse at the same time.

Instructions for the Hundred

  1. Begin on your back with your legs bent in tabletop position (knees bent and shins parallel to the floor). Inhale.
  2. Exhale, bringing your head up with your chin down. Curl your upper spine off the floor to the base of your shoulder blades. Keep your gaze down into the scoop of the abs. Hold and inhale.
  3. Exhale, deepening the pull of the abs and extending your arms and legs. The angle of your legs should be towards where the wall and the ceiling meet in front of you. Having them lower is more advanced. Keep your arms straight and low.
  4. Hold your position for five short breaths in and out. While breathing, move your arms up and down. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed so the abdominal muscles do all of the work.
  5. Do a cycle of 10 full breaths (five in and five out) with your arms pumping in unison with the breaths.
  6. To finish, bring your knees in toward your chest. Grasp your knees and roll your upper spine and head down to the floor.

Single Leg Stretch

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Single leg stretch is one of the best Pilates mat exercises for working the abdominals. It is an especially good exercise for the lower abdominals. If having flat abs is one of your goals, this exercise is for you.

Instructions for Single Leg Stretch

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your shins parallel to the floor (tabletop leg position). Inhale.
  2. Exhale and pull your abs in as you curl your head and shoulders up to the tips of the shoulder blades. As you curl up, your left leg extends at a 45-degree angle. Your right hand grasps your right ankle and your left hand moves to your right knee.
  3. Switch legs, breathing in as your left knee comes in and bringing more air in as you gently pulse that knee toward you. Now your left hand is at your left ankle and your right hand at your left knee.
  4. Exhale and switch legs, bringing the right leg in with a two-part exhale and pulse as you extend your left leg, with the same leg and hand coordination.
  5. Repeat, switching legs, up to 10 times.

Spine Stretch

spine stretch forward

Photo: Ben Goldstein / Model: Melissa Castro Schmidt 

Spine stretch is a Pilates mat exercise that feels really good. It can show up anywhere in your workout as a great stretch for the back and the hamstrings.

Instructions for Spine Stretch

  1. Inhale and extend your arms at shoulder height. Face your palms down and extend your fingers forward.
  2. Exhale and lengthen your spine into a C curve forward with a deep scoop in the abdominals.
  3. Reverse the action and roll up one vertebra at a time, a move known as spinal articulation. Keep your abdominals engaged, drawing in and up.

Pilates Swimming Exercise

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Pilates Swimming Exercise. Robert Benson/Getty Images for Fitbit

Swimming is a fun exercise, yet quite a workout. Swimming, like the activity it is named after, works every part of the body. This one is perfect for toning your abs. butt, back, and hamstrings in a quick workout.

Instructions for Swimming

  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs straight.
  2. Stretch your arms straight overhead.
  3. Pull in your abs.
  4. Extend your arms and legs in opposite directions so they naturally come up off the floor. Your spine should lengthen so you head naturally moves up off the mat.
  5. Alternate right arm/left leg, then left arm/right leg, pumping them up and down in small pulses.
  6. Breath in for a count of five kicks and out for a count of five.
  7. Do two or three cycles of five counts.

Plank: Pilates Front Support


Verywell / Ben Goldstein

While plank really targets the abdominal muscles and shoulder stability, you will find that plank is an excellent way to get a full body challenge. It is often modified to help build core stability for beginners and those with physical challenges.

Instructions for Plank

  1. Begin on your knees with your hands on the floor in front of you and fingers pointing ahead. Don't lock your elbows.
  2. With strong abs, lean forward and shift your weight onto your hands, with your shoulders directly over your wrists.
  3. Step one foot back, then the other, so your toes are curled under and some of the weight is on the balls of your feet.
  4. Bring your legs and heels together. Hold your position for five to 10 breaths.
  5. Return to starting position.
  6. Repeat up to five times.

Exercise 7: Pilates Saw Exercise

The Pilates saw.
The Pilates saw. Angela Coppola/Getty Images

Saw is a basic Pilates mat exercise that is appropriate for all workout levels. It is a good spine stretch, utilizing spinal rotation and the breath to increase the stretch.

Instructions for Saw

  1. Begin by sitting up straight on your sit bones. Extend your legs in front of you, feet about shoulder width apart. Alternatively, you can sit with legs crossed.
  2. Stretch your arms out to the side with your palms facing forward at a height even with your shoulders.
  3. Inhale and twist to the right. Keep your pelvis steady and don't lean.
  4. Exhale.
  5. Stretch and let it take you forward without tilting, trying to reach your opposite foot with the pinkie finger of the forward hand. Keep your sit bones against the mat.
  6. Exhale a little more as you reach a little further.
  7. At the furthest point of your reach, maintain your turned position. Inhale as you return to sitting.
  8. Exhale and undo your turn, coming back to the starting position.
  9. Repeat this exercise three times on each side.

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.