Tip to Toe Pilates Workout with 10 Beginner Exercises

Intro and the Head Nod

The head nod.
The head nod. Liam Norris/Getty Images

This beginner Pilates workout starts with your head and moves through your body giving you an effective short workout program. These 10 Pilates exercises will get you on the road to experiencing the many benefits of Pilates including increased strength and flexibility with flat abs, toned thighs and a firm butt.

The basic exercise instructions are here along with links to more detailed instructions, and if you are up for it, variations you can add in to fill out the workout. Before you begin, you might want to warm up with a Pilates Fundamentals Set.

Our First Exercise:

Head Nod

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

    Your legs should be parallel - hips, knees, and feet in one line. Arms rest along your sides, palms down. Your spine is in a neutral position - all 3 natural curves are present. Your face is flat to the ceiling.
  2. Inhale: Use your breath to enhance a feeling of length in your spine so that the space at back of the neck - just under the base of the skull - opens up, releasing the chin downward.

    Feel this as a lengthening and opening move rather than pulling the chin down from the front. Be sure to avoid jamming your chin down.
  3. Exhale: Return to neutral position.
  4. Repeat 3 - 5 times.

Get Detailed Info and Instructions for Head Nod

Supported Half Roll Up

pilates pictures
Pilates Supported Roll Back. Kolesar Studios

  1. Continue on your back with your legs bent, legs parallel. Open your knees a little more.
  2. Inhale.
  3. Exhale: You can use your hands behind your legs to help you as you do a head nod, knit your ribs together in front and deepen the scoop of your abdominal muscles to curl your upper body off the floor. Keep the lower part of your body still.
  4. Inhale: Roll your spine back down on the floor like you were laying a pearl necklace down, bead by bead. Use abdominal control. As you go down your arms arc over head to begin the exercise again.
  5. Repeat 5 times.

Get Detailed Info and Instructions for Full Roll Up

Supported Roll Back

Pilates pictures
Pilates Supported Roll Back. Kolesar Studios

This exercise will take you into the same position as the last exercise, supported roll up, but because you start from sitting it will help you engage your lower abdominal muscles more.

  1. Begin sitting upright on your sit bones. The legs are parallel with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your thighs just above the back of the knee.
  2. Pull your lower abdominals in deeply to initiate the move. Start very low, just above your pubic bone. Let your back expand and create an "up and over" curve in response. Keep the chest open and shoulders down.
  3. Keep your curve as you roll back and maintain a deep pull in of the abdominal area. Use the support of the hands to keep yourself using your abs, and do not allow the back or neck to get overly involved. Make your curve without hunching your shoulders.
  4. Go as far back as you can go smoothly. If your abs start to shake (which is OK), or your neck gets tense, back off a bit.
  5. Initiate the return to upright with your lower abs. Keep your C-curve until you are up on your sit bones again, then send your sit bones down into the floor as you allow the spine to unfurl toward the sky, shoulders released.

Get Detailed Info and Instructions for Supported Roll Back

The Saw

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

  1. Sit up straight on your sit bones.

    Your legs are extended in front of you, about shoulder width apart. If you have tight hamstrings you may need to prop your hips up on small lift, like a folded towel.

    Arms are stretched out to the side, even with your shoulders.
  2. Inhale: Get taller as you turn your whole torso, but keep your hips even with each other.
  3. Exhale: Let your gaze follow your back hand as you stretch and curve forward and reach the little finger of your front hand across the outside of the opposite foot.
  4. Exhale a little more as you reach a little further.
  5. Once your reach extends to its furthest point, maintain your turned position as you inhale and return to sitting.
  6. Exhale and undo your turn, coming to the starting position.
  7. Repeat this exercise 3 times to each side.

Get Detailed Info and Instructions for Saw

Open Leg Rocker

The Pilates open leg rocker.
The Pilates open leg rocker. Angela Coppola/Getty Images

  1. Prepare: Sit up tall on your sit bones with your knees bent so that you can grasp your ankles.
  2. As you balance between your sit bones and tailbone, keep your abs activated as you lift and extend one leg, then the other, to shoulder width apart.
  3. Balance. (only go this far if you have neck problems, don't roll)
  4. Inhale and Roll: On an inhale, use a deepening scoop of the abdominals and the fullness of your inhale to propel your roll back onto your shoulders, no further.
  5. Stay in your C-curve as you roll, leaving your head and neck off the mat.
  6. Pause.
  7. Exhale and Return: Remain in your C-curve and use your abdominal muscles, along with a strong exhale, to bring yourself back to an upright balance.

Get Detailed Info and Instructions for open leg rocker

High Clam

pilates clam exericse
Pilates High Clam. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle

  1. Lie on your side with your hips and shoulders in a straight line.
  2. Bend at the hip so that your thighs are a little more open than a 90-degree angle to your body.
  3. Rest your head on your top arm as it is stretched out overhead, or bent, whichever is more comfortable.
  4. Place your top hand on the floor in front of your chest for extra stability.
    Stack your hips directly on top of each other vertically. Do the same with your shoulders. Use your deep abdominal muscles to keep this alignment throughout the exercise.
  5. Knees together and down, lift your feet away from the mat. The rest of your body stays still.
  6. The inside edges of your feet stay together as you rotate the top leg open from the hip. Give this move some effort by imagining that you have to pull your knees apart.
  7. Keep your feet up but do an inner rotation of your top leg that brings the top knee back down to join the bottom knee. Imagine that you are slowly squeezing the air as you bring the knees together. This will help activate the inner thighs.
  8. Repeat the open and close, with resistance, 6 - 8 times. Change sides.

Get Detailed Info and Instructions for high clam


pilates exercise dart
Pilates Dart Exercise. (c)2009, Marguerite Ogle

  1. Lie on your stomach with your legs together. Arms along your sides.
  2. Lift your abdominal muscles away from the mat.
  3. Inhale.
  4. Exhale: Keeping your abdominal muscles pulled in, extend energy through your spine and out the top of your head to lift your upper body slightly off the mat.

    Anchor your pubic bone to the mat to protect your lower back. Your legs and glutes are engaged, but don't over-squeeze them. Your head is an extension of your spine. Your gaze will be down. Your shoulder blades will slide down your back as your arms reach behind you like they are being blown back.
  5. Hold for an inhale.

    If you feel stable and have no pain, open your chest and lift your gaze a little more to get that wonderful "flight feeling".
  6. Exhale to lengthen and lower your body to the floor.
  7. Repeat 3 times.

Get Detailed Instructions for Dart

Heel Beats

Pilates heel beats exercise
Pilates Heel Beats. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle

  1. Lie on your stomach with your forehead on your hands. Have your legs together, straight behind you.
  2. Lift your abdominal muscles away from the mat. Feel your spine lengthen.
  3. Turn your legs out very slightly at the hip. Heels together.
  4. Keep your abs lifted and legs straight and together as you send lengthening energy down the backs of your legs and through your heels. Let that energy lift your legs off the mat.
  5. Your legs stay lifted as you quickly beat your heels together and apart.

    The emphasis is on working from the inner and back of the upper thigh. (Let your shoulders stay relaxed. This exercise has little to do with them!)
  6. Do 10 beats. Rest and repeat.

Get Detailed Info and Instructions for Heel Beats

Dolphin Plank

Pilates plank.
Pilates plank. baona/Getty Images

Dolphin plank is going to call on harmonious effort from your whole body. You can build up to this exercise by keeping your knees on the mat.

  1. Begin on your hands and knees. Then move your elbows to the floor directly under your shoulders.
  2. Your forearms can extend on the floor straight in front of you with your hands flat, or your hands can be clasped with fingers entwined. Make sure your shoulders are back and down, and your chest is open.
  3. Keep your abdominal muscles pulled in to support the movement as you step back into a plank position. The length of your body is supporting this move -- it is not focused only in the upper body. Make sure you are in a straight line.
  4. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths. Release and repeat 1 or 2 more times.

Get Details on Dolphin and Other Plank Exercises

Towel Curls

foot exercises
Foot Exercises - Towel Curl. (c)2010, Marguerite Ogle

Now, get your feet ready to walk. All you need for this exercise is a small towel, a cloth, or an exercise band.

  1. Smooth the towel or band out and place one foot on it, flat. Have extra fabric in front of your foot.
  2. Sit with your heels under your knees.
  3. Make sure you legs and feet are parallel to each other with the toes pointing forward.
  4. Keep you heel down, lift your toes and flex your foot back.
  5. Your heel stays in place on the towel as you reach out evenly along both sides and the middle of your foot to get your foot to land on the towel as far out as you can.
  6. Leave your heel where it is and pull the towel toward your heel by scooping it in with your arch and and toes. Use both sides of your foot and try for a deep dome under the arch area. You will only get a little bit of the towel to move each time you extend and pull back. You might have to take a break to smooth the towel and band after few reps.
  7. Repeat the move at least 5 times then do the other side.

Get Detailed Info and Instructions for Towel Curls

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