Sculpt Your Entire Body With This Beginner Pilates Workout
Pilates is a brilliant low-impact way to sculpt lean muscle, strengthen your core and prevent injury. What’s more: you can do these moves anywhere!
One of the reasons Pilates is so effective is that you’re isolating muscle groups and keeping them under tension for long periods of time. The result: All your muscles need to work hard; you can’t get away with the stronger ones carrying the load. If you’re still a beginner, exercising in this slow, controlled way can be tough – even if you’re used to banging out sets of far more “hardcore” exercises. Using a band to modify the moves can help you master the form and build up strength, says Kirsten Percy, instructor at in Cape Town. The school specialises in Pilates classes for corporates, giving desk jockeys a dose of minimal-sweat exercise pre-work or during lunch. So they’re used to working with beginners. “We use bands a lot in our classes,” says Percy.
This sequence, created by Percy, is aimed at beginners and designed to sculpt your whole body. All you need are a light, stretchy band and a mat (optional). “When performing this workout, it’s important to execute the exercises slowly and controlled through the largest range of motion possible,” she says. “Don’t pull the flex-band too forcefully; always keep the motions and resistance equally balanced.”
Watch Kirsten perform the moves:
1. Pelvic Curl
What it works: Glutes, abs, hamstrings, lats
Duration: 8 reps
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet hip-distance apart. Your arms are up, resting just above your ears, holding the flex-band shoulder width apart. Engage your abs and buttocks before tucking your pelvis under and peeling your spine up off the mat, one vertebrae at a time. As you roll your spine off the mat, simultaneously lift your arms up, placing the flex-band above your knees, then band hold your hips up by squeezing your butt and pulling the flex-band down to the mat. Release the band before rolling back down, placing each vertebrae, one at a time, back onto the mat.
2. Ab Prep Biceps Curl
What it works: Abs, biceps
Duration: 6 reps
Lie on your back, knees bent, flex-band around both feet, holding either side of the band in each hand. Inhale, nod your chin, then exhale and flex your head and upper torso off the mat. Keeping your lumbar spine in neutral position, inhale and maintain this position, then exhale and flex your elbows to perform biceps curls for five repetitions, while pulling your belly button towards your spine. Lengthen your arms, then lower your upper torso to the mat.
What it works: Abs, shoulders, lats
Duration: 100 counts! (Yes, really)
Lie on your back in a neutral position; lift your legs to a 90-degree angle. Keeping your legs hip width apart, place the flex-band over your shins just below your knees. Hold the band between your thumb and index finger, palms facing the floor, arms lengthened. Inhale, nod your chin, then exhale and flex head and upper torso off the mat, so your bottom ribs remain on the floor. Pretend you’re holding a small plum under your chin. Pulse both arms up and down while you inhale for five counts through your nose and exhale for five counts through your mouth.
4. Single Leg Stretch
What it works: Hip flexors, abs, core
Duration: 8 reps on each leg
Lying on your back, place one foot in your flex-band and hold it at a 90-degree angle. Lengthen the other leg down on the mat. Inhale and, as you exhale, extend your leg into the flex-band and lengthen your arms up over your head. Pull your belly button toward your spine and pull your shoulder blades down towards your buttocks. Only extend your leg as far as you can without your low back lifting. Inhale and bring your arms and leg back to start .
5. Double Leg Stretch
What it works: Deltoids, triceps, hip extensors, core and quads
Duration: 8 reps
Lying down on your back, place both feet in the flex-band, keeping your legs at a 90-degree angle, cross the bands in your hands. Inhale to prepare, exhale and extend both legs out and reach both arms over your head, hovering your arms just above your ears. Inhale to circle your arms around your body, bringing your legs back to start. Do four reps, then repeat for another four reps with your head and upper torso flexed up.
6. Leg Lifts
What it works: Lower abs and hip-flexors
Duration: 10 reps
Lying on your back, flex-band around both feet, raise both legs toward the ceiling. Keep your elbows on the mat close to your body. Inhale and engage your abs. Exhale and slowly lower your legs until they’re just above the floor (or as low as you can go without lifting the small of your back). Pause and breathe in. Breathe out as you raise your legs to start.
7. Full Roll Up With Biceps Curl And Extension
What it work: Abs, biceps and triceps
Duration: 8 reps
Sitting on your sit bones, tall and lengthened, knees bent, feet flexed, wrap the band around both feet and hold the band near the ends with one end in each hand. Inhale, prepare; exhale and perform a biceps curl, flex into your lower spine and roll down, placing each vertebra back onto the mat one at a time. Lengthen your arms. Inhale, nod chin into chest, then exhale, engage abs, perform a biceps curl and peel each vertebra up and off the mat. Curl the spine into a ‘C’ curve over your legs and pull the band behind your body. Sit up straight.
8. Rolling like a ball
What it works: Core, hip flexors and shoulders
Duration: 6 reps
Sit on the back of your sit-bones, spine flexed, knees flexed and lifted off the mat, holding the flex-band with ends in both hands, shoulder width apart. Inhale; maintain flexion and roll back. Your neck mustn’t touch the mat. Pull your arms overhead and pull on the flex-band, exhale roll up, bringing arms to starting position. Inhale lift arms overhead, exhale take arms to lower back, inhale return.
9. Row with Spine Twist
What it works: Back, abs and obliques
Duration: 12 reps each side.
Sit on your sit bones, tall and lengthened, legs straight out with the band around both feet. Hold the band near the ends with one end in each hand. Inhale, prepare; exhale and twist in your spine, pulling your right hand across your ribcage. Inhale and return to start.
10. Back Extension
What it works: Lats and core
Duration: 6 reps
Lie prone on the mat, legs long and either together or slightly apart. Take your arms overhead with the flex-band band between your thumb and index finger, slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Inhale and pull your abs a little way from the floor, lift your upper body and arms up, keeping your eye line directly down. Exhale, bend your elbows and slide your scapular down your spine. Inhale, reach your arms back overhead. Exhale and lower back down to the mat.
11. Back Leg Extension
What it works: Strengthens back extensors, glutes, hamstrings and multifidus
Duration: 12 reps on each leg
Get onto all fours, place your hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. Wrap the band around your right foot and place the ends under your palms. Inhale and lift your right knee up just off the floor. Exhale and extend your leg straight back, keeping your hips square and your spine in neutral with no excessive arch in your back. Pull your abs in tight. Inhale, bend the knee off the floor to your hip; exhale and lengthen your leg back.
12. Leg Pull Front Prep (Baby Plank)
What it works: Abs, oblique’s, inner thighs, arms and glutes
Duration: 30 seconds
Get onto all fours, place the flex-band around your shoulder blades, pull the band under your arms and place the ends under your hands. Your hands must be directly under your shoulders and your knees together directly below your hips. Tuck your toes so that your weight is on the balls of your feet. Inhale and activate your core muscles and as you exhale, slowly lift your knees so that they raise a few centimetres off the mat. Push your back into the flex-band while maintaining your neutral spine. Hold this position.
13. Clam Shells
What it works: Hip abductors such as gluteus medius
Duration: 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg
Tie the flex-band around your thighs just above your knees. Lie on your side and support your head on your bottom arm. Flex your hips to 45 degrees and your knees to approximately 90 degrees, with your right leg directly on top of your left. Inhale and engage your abs; exhale and lift your top knee up, maintaining between your feet. Inhale and return to start. After a few reps, lift your top leg parallel to your bottom leg, removing between your feet.
14. Swimming Prep
What it works: Abs, oblique’s, multifidus, scapular stabilizers and deltoids
Duration: 5 Reps on each side, alternating
Get onto all fours and place the band around the balls of your feet and hold the ends in either hand. Your legs are hip width apart and hands are under your shoulders. Inhale, engage your abs; exhale and lift your right arm up over your head and extend arms to the side of your body, keeping the arm in line with your shoulders. Inhale and place your hand down. Alternate.