How to Do Sparklers in Pilates

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman holding weights with trainer
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Targets: Upper body

Equipment Needed: Light dumbbells (2 to 3 pounds each)

Level: Beginner

The sparklers Pilates arm exercise is the perfect go-to movement for a quick arm workout. It's a classical Pilates move done with light dumbbells. Historically, this exercise belongs to a larger arm weight routine, but on its own, it packs a punch for arms in need of a quick pick-me-up. The exercise is great if you are pressed for time because it works most of the arm muscles simultaneously. Done properly, you will strengthen your shoulders and arms and even tighten your core and lower body muscles.


As you make small circles up and down in alternating directions, you will be working your chest, back, and upper arm muscles. Within the Pilates repertoire, there are dozens of arm weight exercises designed to tone, sculpt, and strengthen the upper body with light weights of about 2 to 3 pounds. These exercises call for specific positioning of the legs, the feet, and the abdominals while simultaneously working at the arms. Pilates converted single-focus exercises to multi-tasking moves. Don't focus solely on your arms but also on your abdominals, gluteals, coordination, control, and breathing. This is a good functional exercise as you do many tasks throughout the day that call for using your arms while braced by your back and abs.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Pick up the dumbbells, with one in each hand.
  2. Stand tall with your legs together and feet in Pilates position (heels together and toes apart).
  3. Hang the arms just in front of your thighs with the palms facing each other holding the middle of the weights. Open your elbows slightly so you tense your biceps muscles.
  4. Shift your body weight lightly toward the front of your feet while simultaneously pulling your abdominals inward and upward. The gluteals should tighten and the backs of the legs should pull together.
  5. Maintain your tallest posture and begin to make small rapid circles with your arms. As you circle, raise the arms gradually. Take eight circles to raise the arms all the way overhead, then pause.
  6. Lower the arms and reverse the circles for another eight repetitions.
  7. One full set is complete when you have performed eight circles on the way up and eight circles on the way down. Perform three to four full sets. 

Common Mistakes

From the instructions, the exercise sounds simple enough, but it is actually deceptively challenging. Avoid these errors.

Rocking or Shifting

The toughest part for most people is to maintain core strength and stability while your arms are rapidly circling on the way up and down. Your body will naturally try to offset the changing center of gravity by rocking back and forth or changing your spinal alignment. Resist this at all costs. By working your deepest abdominals and fighting for a stable torso you will reap all the benefits of this move as quickly as possible. 

Bending Elbows

It is also tempting to bend the elbows too much, shortening the arm distance and decreasing the load and intensity on the arms. As much as possible, extend the arms without locking the elbow joints. Maintaining long arms with a slight bend to the elbow is the ideal position to execute this move. 

Poor Posture

Work your posture the entire time. With so much happening in the arms, it can be easy to let your neck or shoulders fall out of alignment. Instead, hold your torso long and taut to provide a stable anchor for your moving arms.

Modifications and Variations

You can make this exercise more or less intense.

Need a Modification?

You can do this exercise seated if you are unable to stand. Use lighter weights or no weights at first to make it less intense.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you are comfortable with your chose weight, you can go up another pound. Be sure that you are not rocking with the additional weight. For a balance challenge, do it while standing on a balance disc or BOSU.

Safety and Precautions

You may wish to avoid this exercise if you have any shoulder or wrist injury. Stop the exercise if you feel any pain.

Try It Out

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

By Alycea Ungaro, PT, MS
Alycea Ungaro, PT, MS, holds a Pilates certification through the Pilates Method Alliance and a master's degree in clinical nutrition.