Pilates basics The language of Pilates

5 basic moves of Pilates

Pilates has its own rich tradition and with that tradition comes a unique vocabulary. If you are just getting started with a Pilates practice, it’s helpful to know what the teacher is referencing when they call out a pose. Here are 5 poses sure to be present in almost any Pilates class. Knowing these basics will help you walk in just a little ahead of the game.

1. The Hundred

  • What is the goal of this pose?

A Pilates classic, you’ll be stretched to find a class that doesn’t include some variation of the Hundred which cultivates both upper and lower abdominal strength.

  • How does it work?  How do I start?

The Hundred is simple but not easy. Lie on your back and hug your knees into your chest. Extend both legs out at a 45 degree angle stretching your arms forward until they are parallel to the floor. Inhale for 5 counts as you pump your arms up and down, exhale for 5 counts, continuing the arm motion. Repeat 10 times equaling, you guessed it- 100.

  • How do I build The Hundred?

To build The Hundred while maintaining the integrity of the movement, continue the exercise as is, but layer on repetitions. You can also add props, such as the magic circle to engage the inner thighs.

  • Who should do it? Who should avoid it?

The Hundred is great for those with a healthy back who are ready to build some serious strength. For those with some lower back sensitivity, or those who are just getting back to movement after a long time away, practice the Hundred with bent knees and consider making it “The Fifty,” cutting the endurance by half.

2. Criss Cross

  • What is the goal of this pose?

This pose engages both upper and lower abdominals as well as engaging the side body.

  • How does it work? How do I start?

Begin on your back hugging your knees into your chest. Using your abdominals, keep your knees where they are as you interlace your fingers behind your head. Without using your hands to pull your head, using only your abdominal muscles lift your chest and upper body towards the ceiling. Inhale in this symmetrical position and on the exhale, draw your right elbow and left knee towards each other extending the right leg straight and towards the floor. Inhale back to the symmetrical position and exhale repeat on the other side. Repeat for a total of 5 rounds on both sides and rest. 

  • How do I build Criss Cross Pose? 

Build Criss Cross Pose by increasing the number of rounds and repetitions, but always sustain the symmetrical breath pattern.

  • Who should do it?  Who should avoid it?

Criss cross pose is relatively safe for most practitioners. If there is low back sensitivity, don’t extend the straight leg quite so far. 

3. Single Leg Circles

  • What is the goal of this pose?

Lower abdominal and inner thigh strength.

  • How does it work? How do I start?

Start on your back with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. This is the resting position. Keeping your right knee bent, engage your abdominals as you stretch your left leg flat onto the floor, inner thigh pressing downward, flexing the left foot. Without the use of your arms, draw the right knee toward the chest, right foot lifting up off the floor.  Begin to press the right foot towards the ceiling as far as is comfortable. This is your beginning position. Once that is set, move the right foot in a clockwise direction creating a full circle. Repeat until 5 circles have been completed. Come back to resting position and repeat on side two. Once this is complete, consider repeating with counterclockwise circles. Repeat cycle 3 times.

  • How do I build Single Leg Circles?

Once this is mastered, instead of taking a break between clockwise and counterclockwise, consider moving straight into it. Leg circles can increase from 5 to 10 or more and full sets can be increased as needed.

  • Who should do it? Who should avoid it?

Leg circles are a great way to strengthen a basically strong and healthy body. They should be avoided by those who have lower back issues.  

4. Plank Pose

  • What is the goal of this pose?

Full body strength. There are few poses that hit all body parts at once more than Plank.

  • How does it work?  How do I start?

The lowest impact way to try Plank pose is from a hands-and-knees position. Once this is set, place your hands on the floor in front of you so that they are shoulder distance and parallel. Once your upper body is set, step one foot all the way backward followed by the second foot until your legs and torso make one straight line. Press back through your heels lifting your abdominals up and drawing your tailbone down. Gaze is slightly downward to encourage elongation in the neck.  Hold for 3-10 breaths, rest and repeat 3-5 times.

  • How do I build Plank Pose?

There are several ways to build Plank once it has been mastered. You can increase the duration (meaning, hold the pose for longer), or you can increase the repetitions (the number of times that you perform it after a rest).  Once these two basics have been built, you can begin to embark on one-legged plank and side plank.

  • Who should do it? Who should avoid it? 

Anyone with shoulder challenges should avoid plank. Those with lower back issues should consider practicing a version with the knees on the floor.

5. Mermaid

  • What is the goal of the pose?

To lengthen and strengthen the side body.

  • How does it work? How do I start?

Sit on the floor placing both legs off to the left side. Bend both knees, keeping both feet close to the side of the body. With the left hand, hold the left ankle as a support for keeping your body upright. Using your core muscles to stabilize, extend the right hand to the ceiling, elongating the entire right side of the body. Hold for 5 breaths. Release and repeat on side 2.

  • How do I build Mermaid Pose?

Build Mermaid Pose by lengthening duration and repetitions.

  • Who should do it? Who should avoid it?

Mermaid pose is a great cool down for a workout and should be practiced widely as it accesses a part of the body otherwise often ignored. Anyone who has low back challenges should consider avoiding it or sitting up on a block to lessen the strain.

These classes will get you more acquainted with the basic Pilates poses in no time:


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