The most effective exercises for Pilates at home

Avatar for Mish Khot By in home workout, pilates, pilates exercises on 09/11/2020
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At home workouts have been growing in popularity over the last few years. The easy accessibility of quality exercise guides on Youtube, the rise of fitness apps, and the most recent driving factor: the pandemic that has confined us all to our homes – all these reasons have led to more and more people working out at home. If you’ve been missing the vibe and your tribe at your regular Pilates class, there are still some ways to enjoy an at home Pilates workout.

What is at home Pilates?

Developed in the 1920s by physical trainer Joseph Pilates, Pilates was meant to support injured army veterans as they healed and began to train for their return to the field. It was also useful for athletes or dancers with pain or injuries. With Pilates, they could exercise safely as they regained their fitness without requiring more than a mat. These easy and low-impact exercises are effective at strengthening and toning the body, and have become very popular for the same reasons.

Pilates involves a series of exercises designed to move your whole body with the primary focus on empowering your core and aligning your spine. This ensures greater balance, flexibility and improved posture. Doing Pilates at home is highly recommended because it improves physical health by augmenting strength and flexibility, and also boosts mental health through its focus on breathing and rhythm.

home workout

If you go to a gym, you’ll find all kinds of equipment that help you transition from beginner to advanced level Pilates, but you don’t need that at home. For a good at home Pilates session, all you need is a mat and some concentration.

Can I do a Pilates workout at home?

Pilates is a low-impact form of exercise which requires only a mat. It can be done by people of all ages, at any level of fitness, and does not require you to strain yourself. The only thing you really need to do at home Pilates is concentration and control, so that you don’t injure yourself while going through the specific range of exercises.

The focus of the workout is on all your core muscles which allows you to align and strengthen them in a phased easy manner. A key tenet of Pilates is paying attention to your breath so that you can do the exercises at your own rhythm.

at home Pilates

Most Pilates workouts follow a rhythmic breathing pattern and are performed with 5-10 reps, over a span of 45-90 minutes. They can be done at your own pace but you should make sure you focus and follow the instructions carefully. To gain the most from your at home Pilates sessions, it is recommended to do them 2-3 times a week.

How is at home Pilates different from going to a class?

There are two primary forms of Pilates workout:

Mat-based:
This form of Pilates requires you to do exercises on a mat using your own body weight as a form of resistance. The focus is on augmenting the deeper, core muscles of the body to boost posture, coordination and balance.

Equipment-based:
This form of Pilates is done on equipment which uses springs to provide resistance for your workouts. Certain workouts might also require you to use weights and other minor equipment in order to challenge your muscles.

Find out which works best for you: a mat workout or Reformer Pilates?

A Pilates workout at home is usually mat-based because you probably don’t have all the equipment. If you go to a gym or class, the routine usually incorporate equipment-based Pilates.

Another big difference is that you will have a professional and qualified trainer in class or at the gym. This professional will make sure that the exercises are suitable to your specific medical and physical condition and reevaluates them on a consistent basis for effectiveness.

What are the benefits of a Pilates workout at home?

Pilates is a low-impact exercise that works out your whole body and offers substantial mental health benefits too. Here are some of the leading benefits of an at home Pilates session:

  • Heightens body awareness
  • Improves coordination and balance
  • Augments flexibility
  • Leads to improved posture by stabilizing the spine
  • Reduces and prevents musculoskeletal injuries
  • Helps manage stress and promote relaxation.
  • Tones and strengthens muscles, particularly the ones that form the core of the body
  • Relaxes the tension in your shoulders, neck and upper back
  • Improves cardiovascular capacity and circulation by means of deep breathing
  • Enhances muscular control of back and limbs
  • Boosts concentration

Is at home Pilates suitable for everyone?

Pilates was designed to help injured war veterans and sports people recover while maintaining their fitness. It is intended to be low-impact and is therefore suitable for all ages and all levels of fitness. It does not require you to work your muscles to the point of complete exhaustion or injury.

However if you fit into any of the following categories, you should consult your medical practitioner before beginning a Pilates routine:

  • Overweight or obese
  • Have a chronic or pre-existing medical condition
  • Have had surgery recently
  • Pregnant
  • More than 40 years of age
  • Haven’t exercised in a long time
  • Have arthritis or autoimmune conditions
  • Suffer from preexisting musculoskeletal injuries

What are the most effective exercises to try?

There are over 500 types of exercises in the Pilates world, which can make it overwhelming to decide how and where to get started with your workout session. Here are some of the most popular and effective exercises that you can safely try at home:

1. Leg extension with crunch

Pilates leg extension with crunch
  • Lie flat on your back with legs in table top position.
  • Crunch your abs and raise your shoulders off the ground, reaching your arms out beyond your thighs.
  • Keeping abs engaged, stretch your right leg out till it is straight but keep it a few inches off the ground.
  • Make sure your neck stays loose but your core is active and bring your leg back to table top position.
  • Repeat on the other side and carry on for 10 repetitions

2. Criss cross move

at home Pilates workout
  • Lie flat on the mat with your elbows crooked and fingers interlaced behind your head, keeping elbows wide.
  • Bend your knees and place feet on the mat, hip-width apart.
  • Rest your right ankle on your left knee and engage your core, curling up to bring your left elbow to your right knee.
  • Lie back slowly keeping your abs engaged. Repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 5 times.

3. Roll up with bent knees

Pilates roll-up
  • Lie on the mat with your arms stretched out overhead and your legs flat and hip-width apart.
  • Move your legs into table top position and lift your arms over to beside your knees, curling your abs to help you move.
  • Keeping your core muscles engaged, uncurl and lie back on your mat, stretching arms and legs back into position.
  • Repeat 10 times

4. Leg stretch (single leg)

Pilates workout at home
  • Lie on your mat on your back with your arms by your sides.
  • Activate your core, keep your lower back pressed to the ground and raise your legs up towards the ceiling.
  • Contract your abs and lift your shoulders up towards your knees, keeping your neck loose.
  • Keeping your abs contracted, reach your hands out to hold your left knee and pulse the leg towards you twice. Breathe out and switch legs.
  • Switch legs 10 times.

5. Side plank (for beginners)

Pilates side plank
  • Stretch out on your right side with your legs straight and hips aligned.
  • Using your hand on the mat for stability, activate your core muscles and lift your hips and knees off the mat
  • Observe your posture: your arm should be active, your body should be in a straight line, and your head should not drop forwards or sideways. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Lower yourself carefully and repeat on the other side

6. Side plank (advanced version)

advanced Pilates plank
  • Stretch out on your right side with your legs straight and hips aligned.
  • Using your hand on the mat for stability, activate your core muscles and lift your hips and knees off the mat
  • Keeping your head engaged and in the same line as your spine, stretch your left arm out so that it is lined up with your right arm.
  • Observe your posture: your arms should be active, your body should be in a straight line, and your head should not drop forwards or sideways. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Lower yourself carefully and repeat on the other side.

7. Leg lift with plank

Core strengthening with Pilates
  • Take the plank position and ensure your arms are extended and toes are planted firmly on the floor.
  • Activate your abdominal muscles and begin to raise your left leg till it is 8-10 inches above the floor.
  • Hold your left leg still for a few counts using your abs for stability and keeping your hips aligned.
  • Lower your left leg and repeat on the other side.
  • Repeat 5-10 times.

Is at home Pilates different from doing yoga at home?

Pilates is deeply inspired by the ancient practice of yoga so the two do share common ground. Both aim to lengthen and stretch out major muscles within the body and work on improved balance, flexibility, body awareness and strength.

However, the 500 exercises of Pilates also take inspiration from calisthenics and ballet which gives Pilates a difference from yoga. The one key difference is in movement: yoga is predominantly based on static postures but Pilates encourages you to assume postures and challenges you by incorporating movement of muscles and limbs. Yoga also has an extended focus on breathing and meditation in addition to exercises and postures.

What do I need for at home Pilates?

The great thing about a Pilates workout at home is that it requires no new equipment. All you need is the following:

  • Comfortable clothes that allow you to stretch and move with ease
  • Shoes are optional because these workouts can be done barefoot
  • A yoga mat

If you have the time, space, inclination and budget, you might like to invest in some equipment that will help you do a more effective and impactful Pilates workout.

Avatar for Mish Khot

Mishana Khot is a fiction author and co-founder of The Great Next, an adventure travel company. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes magazine, and other publications, and has over 15 years of experience with health, travel, and lifestyle brands.

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