Pilates for beginners: 4 core exercises

Pilates is the perfect workout to strengthen your core and improve mobility using only bodyweight. Here’s how to get started. 

While pilates may be a household name, the training style doesn’t always feel accessible to everyone. The strengthening and lengthening workouts are often overlooked in favour of either weight-based, muscle-building weight sessions or more stretch-based training, such as yoga.

But overlooking pilates could be a mistake, according to pilates teacher Tatianna Donbavan. “Pilates teaches core control and stability while focusing on the mobility and flexibility aspects of exercise. Those are the kind of principles that I value in health and fitness,” she says. You should value them too – a strong core is essential to everything we do, from sitting to running. 

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It’s also the perfect lockdown workout, given that it doesn’t require any kit and it “corrects misalignments and re-educates the body”, according to Tatianna. This means that the practice can help to alleviate any aches and pains you’ve started noticing since being strapped to your desk. 

During lockdown, there have been numerous online pilates classes tapping into our need for an effective but low-impact workout. But if you’ve never done it before and would rather get acquainted with the training style before jumping into a class, there are some simple things you should know. 

Firstly, the seven principles of pilates, which Tatianna explains are “concentration, precision, flowing movement, centering, breath, control and alignment”. You can either work on all of these disciplines in each session, or take time to work through each of them individually. 

“A pilates session tends to include exercises that burn, working through static holds and then going into pulses, as well as release stretches. The moves tend to flow from one into the other,” Tatianna explains.

Here are four of the best beginner-friendly pilates moves to get acquainted with for increased core strength and improved range of motion.

Best pilates exercises for beginners

Shoulder bridge

Otherwise known as the ‘glute bridge’, this move is perfect for beginners to work on their mind to muscle connection, according to Tatianna.

“When you start to roll up and down you can notice where people stand in their spinal articulation. Often, when they reach the top of the torso, they start to hinge from the hips because they can’t move a huge portion of their spine due to a lack of mobility. This move helps them realise that moving their hips or tilting their pelvis a little bit more can change how they access their muscles,” she says.

You can find out how to perfect the shoulder (glute) bridge on Stylist.co.uk. 

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Swan dive

“I wouldn’t recommend the full dive for beginners, but starting to work through thoracic mobility is really important,” says Tatianna. 

  1. Start lying face down on your mat with your hands either side of your chest.
  2. Draw the belly button in to your spine and squeeze the glutes.
  3. Begin to roll up through your head and shoulders to come into an active upward dog position. 
  4. Take it into swan dive by lifting your arms up off the mat and over head while your chest remains lifted off the floor. 
  5. This may be enough for a beginner, but if you want to make the move more advance, you can lift your feet off of the ground so your body is in an arc position. Ensure you maintain the activation through your back, glutes and thigh muscles.

Pilates hundred

“One of the best exercises to work on is the hundred. It works your core strength, including the muscles in your lumbar spine, and you start to build your stamina,” says Tatianna. She isn’t the first trainer to recommend this as the best exercise to do if you want to seriously build muscle around your centre – fitness trainer Adrienne Herbert also advised everyone to give it a go. She shared how to perfect the pilates hundred move here.

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Bird dog

“This is a popular move outside of pilates, based on a four-point kneeling posture,” says Tatianna.

  1. Come into an all fours position, with your hands underneath your shoulders, knees underneath your hips.
  2. Keep a neutral spine, so you aren’t arching through your back.
  3. Engage the core by drawing your belly button into your spine.
  4. Begin by lifting and extending the opposite arm and leg and reach out as far as you can to opposite corners of the room.
  5. When you reach full extension, hold and squeeze the glutes and core.
  6. Return back to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

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Images: Getty

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