Pilates Fundamental Workouts and Basic Movements

Learn Basic Movement Principles

This is a set of deceptively easy exercises. They are exercises that teach the basic movement principles upon which Pilates exercises build. Pilates is a "functional fitness" method. That means that these principles translate directly into better posture and graceful, efficient movement in everyday life.

Use these Pilates fundamental moves to open any workout routine. They establish torso stability, pelvic stability, abdominal engagement, good alignment, and greater range of motion for the limbs.

Starting Position - Constructive Rest - Neutral Spine

Daughter helping mother exercise
Jamie Grill/The Image Bank/Getty Images

The exercise we do to find neutral spine is a press of the lower back into the floor (creating a flat back), then a release of the spine into a small arch. Between these two points is a place where the 3 curves of the spine are in their natural position. This will be the start position from which we will do the rest of this set of fundamental exercises.

The Basic Move:

  • Lie on your back with your arms by your sides. Your knees are bent and your legs and feet are parallel to each other, about hip distance apart.
  • Inhale.
  • Exhale and use your abs to press your lower spine into the floor.
  • Inhale to release.
  • Exhale and pull your lower spine up, creating a small arch of the low back.
  • Inhale to release.

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Head Nod

head nod
head nods down. (c)2009,Marguerite Ogle

The head nod is the extending and lengthening of the spine that we go for in Pilates. It is integral to many Pilates exercises that articulate the spine in forward bends and rolling exercises.

Begin in the start position.

Inhale to lengthen the spine and tilt the chin down toward the chest. Your head stays on the mat.

Exhale to return to the neutral position

Inhale to tip the head back a little

Exhale to return to the neutral position

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Arms Over

Pilates exercise picture
Arms Over. (c)2007, Marguerite Ogle

Arms over is about keeping our alignment as the torso is challenged by the arms moving overhead. It also helps us increase our range of motion in the shoulders.

The Basic Move:
From the start position, inhale to bring the fingertips up to the ceiling.

Exhale to bring the arms down toward the floor behind you.

Inhale to bring the arms up again.

Exhale to release to the floor.

Keep the abs engaged.
Do not let moving of the arms effect the alignment of your ribs.

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Angel Arms

Pilates mat exercise
Angel Arms. SXC

Though it engages some different muscles, angel arms, like arms over, helps you perfect your understanding of how to use the arms and shoulders without losing the alignment of your back and ribcage.

The Basic Move:
From the basic position, on an in-breath, the arms sweep out to the sides along the floor.

Exhale to return the arms to your sides.

The abs stay engaged.
The ribs stay down.
The shoulders do not go up with the arms. Keep them away from your ears.

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Pelvic Clock

pilates clock
pilates mat exercises, pelvic clock. SXC

A subtle yet deeply revealing move, pelvic clock increases awareness of pelvic position and strengthens the muscles we need for pelvic stability.

The Basic Move:
Imagine there is a clock placed flat on your lower abs. The 12 is at your bellybutton, the 3 is on your left hip, the 6 is at your pubic bone, and the 9 is on your right hip.

Using your abdominal muscles to initiate and control the movement, sequentially move around the clock pulling first the 12 down, then rotate to the 3, the 6, and nine.

This is a small move.
The hips do not pull up off the floor.
The idea is to move the pelvis without affecting the stability of the rest of the body.

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Knee Folds

pilates exercises
Pilates Knee Folds. (c)2007, Marguerite Ogle

Being able to move your leg in the hip socket without affecting the stability of the pelvis is one of the most important goals of knee folds. This kind of activity is important in all kinds of movements that we do in everyday life, such as sitting, walking and lifting.

The Basic Move:
From the start position, On an inhale, feel that you are using your abdominal muscles to lift one leg off the floor. Allow a deep fold at the hip.

Exhale and return your foot to the floor. As you do so, be sure to use abdominal control. Don't let the thigh take over.

This is about getting a deep fold at the hip so don't let your hip raise up with the leg.
Keep your tailbone anchored on the mat.

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