Pilates Squats to Strengthen and Sculpt

Footwork I: Step I


Squats are a great lower body exercise. The Pilates method has its own version of squats and we call them the Standing Footwork. Inspired by the original Pilates work on the Universal Reformer, Pilates workouts begin with these Footwork exercises. But it can also be done in standing as a terrific stand alone warmup, a mini-workout and even a cardio blast at the end or beginning of your workout. 

A word to the wise: this first move, Footwork I, requires fully mobile healthy joints so tread lightly. They are presented here for you to experiment with and enjoy as your ability permits. Try this move initially with a chair or near a wall allowing the hands some support. The full exercise requires balance and coordination. Once you have mastered the move with assist, perform the variation as shown here.

To begin, stand up with your legs together in Pilates stance, heels together and toes apart. Take your hands behind your head, palm over palm and elbows wide. 

Footwork I: Step II


Keeping your spine fully erect take a half-squat or demi plie' bending the knees as low as they'll go without allowing the heels to lift off the ground. Work your abdominals in and up and keep your chest lifted. The knees open over the toes, not wider or narrower.


Breathe in to prepare and exhale as you lower smoothly and gradually.


Keep your elbows wide and your gaze straight forward.


Dig your heels deep into the ground for this first part of the move. You'll feel your achilles tendons stretching as you lower but resist any lifting of the heels.

Footwork 1: Step III


From your half-squat, continue lowering down. The heels will gradually rise up the deeper you go. Aim to bring your seat down towards your heels without pitching your body forward. Control your descent with your core muscles keeping your abs and back muscles engaged throughout.


Do not speed up as you descend. This move is paced evenly with no bursts or tempo changes.


Pay attention to the alignment of your upper body. Any deviation forward or back should be adjusted.  Your ideal alignment is perfectly upright with the upper body stacked over the lower body.


Use the idea of opposition to anchor the move. As you lower down, focus on lifting up through your hips, waist and upper body. This will give you better balance and control.

Footwork I: Step IV


From your lowest point in the squat, press your heels down firmly to initiate your return back up. As your heels touch down, your legs begin to stretch back up. Come through your half squat position before returning to your starting posture with your legs fully stretched.

Repeat steps I - IV. Perform 6 - 10 repetitions.


Avoid the temptation to rush here. Maintain your even pacing.


This is the spot you are most likely to loose your form. Fight for control by keeping your alignment solid and your abdominals working, no matter what.


Control is your focus. Control of the entire body, not just the legs or feet. Think of your body from top to tail as you glide through this last challenging part of the sequence.

Final Tips

Remember that you may use a chair, counter or even a wall to help you support yourself when you are learning this move. As soon as possible, move away from the support and build your own balance.

Go at your own pace and at your own range. If your joints only permit you to bend to a half squat, so be it. If your achilles are tight and your heels lift up more quickly than you think they should, that's just fine. Simply keep working towards your target form.

This exercise is one of a four part series. Footwork II, III and IV follow. Group them all as a single unit for a complete routine.

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