Create Your Own Pilates Workout Routine

Learn the Elements of Successful Workout Design

It's wonderful to go to Pilates classes, work with a trainer or follow a DVD, but knowing how to design a workout routine for yourself is one of the best ways to support your fitness goals. A few basic cues will help you create an effective workout wherever you are.

Use the elements of a good routine below to help you organize your exercise choices and design a personal workout program that is safe, balanced and effective.

Make a Plan

Woman practising push-ups on exercise mat
Angela Coppola/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Once you begin a solo workout, it is tempting to improvise through it, doing whatever exercise pops in your head at the moment. However, before you start moving, if you outline a plan (ideally on paper) you will create a far superior workout to one that would happen on-the-fly.

Some things you might want to think about for your Pilates workout routine are your goals for the day, your energy level and whether or not there are specific body areas that you want to work. Keeping an exercise log can be a big help in planning your workouts. You may also have certain exercises that you know you want to do. If so, they can give you direction and you can think about which exercises will create a good lead-up for your target exercises.

Warmup and Centering

A good workout has a definitive beginning, middle and end. Take a moment at the beginning of your workout to set your intention, connect with your breath and synchronize mind and body for the work ahead.

To begin warming up the body, choose exercises and stretches that are fairly easy for you. They might be modified versions of exercises that you will do in their full form later on. The idea is to tune into your body and to loosen up the muscles, but not overdo.

You might also want to review the Pilates principles: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow. These principles inform every aspect of a Pilates workout.

Work the Whole Body

Once you get into your workout, you will be choosing more vigorous exercises. If you have very little time, you might choose to do a targeted sequence. An ab- or back-focused workout, for example. Ideally, you will choose a combination of exercises that addresses the whole body. It can be helpful to think about the emphasis of an exercise—top or bottom and front or back—making sure that you do a balanced routine.

Also, keeping the principle of counter stretch in mind is helpful. Pilates routines are stronger on forward flexion exercises than on extension exercises, but it is important to balance a series of flexion exercises with an extension exercise or two.

Range and Rotation

Once you are fully warmed up, your routine should include exercises that encourage you to expand your range of motion. These will be stretches and exercises that open up motion in the joints. This is the time to include exercises that turn and twist the body. Exercises that rotate the spine should be performed with care and should not be done until the muscles are warmed.

Pilates Stretches

Sample Exercises with Rotation:

Make Modifications

Modifications are about keeping your workouts interesting, challenging and safe. To modify an exercise is to keep the original intention of an exercise but to adjust it to make it easier or more difficult, or to protect a certain area of the body. It is worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the basics of making modifications to exercises. This is one of the best ways that you can tailor a routine to your specific needs.

Adding Interest and Variety

A variation is a modification, but you can also think about variety in terms of your overall routine. When we are bored, we are not attentive. If we are not attentive, we are not getting the most out of our exercises.

Make up a routine and throw something new into it like a new way of doing an exercise or adding a new piece of equipment like a magic circle, exercise band or ball.

One of the best ways to add interest and value to your workouts is to fully embrace the Pilates principles. They take a workout from being just exercise into the realm of integrative body/mind experience. This is the real key to the profound effectiveness of the Pilates method.

Finish with Presence

Finishing up is one of the most important transitions of a workout. Do it consciously. Choose a couple of exercises to bring the pace down. You might even return to a few of the centering exercises that you did in the beginning. Bring your attention inward and regulate your breath.

Pilates is a functional fitness method. It is very much about preparing one's body to move gracefully and efficiently in everyday life. A nice way to make the transition from workout mode to daily life is to finish up with a quick posture check.

Take a moment to acknowledge the good work you've done and check how your body feels. Hopefully, your workout has left you feeling tall, balanced, focused and strong.

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