Pilates Exercise List

Like many artists and creators, Joseph Pilates was ahead of his time. Although he developed his technique in Germany in the early part of the 20th century, Pilates did not become a household name until the late 1980s. Most fitness and community centers and private exercise studios offer Pilates mat or apparatus training. The original technique consisted of 34 exercises, but as the method evolved, modern instructors added Pilates-based warm-up exercises to the routine. Most Pilates exercises are performed for one set of four to eight repetitions.

The Hundred

The Pilates Hundred is a classic Pilates abdominal exercise, one which novices often find confusing. Pilates instructor Liz Gillies explains that the hundred was designed to help students make the “abs to lats” connection. This means that you are pulling your abdominals muscles up and in, while using your latissimus dorsi, your back muscles, to pull your shoulders down. The exercise, which is performed in a supine position, involves raising your legs and upper body from the mat and pumping your arms ups and down while you breathe in for five counts and out for five counts. The sequence is repeated 10 times, which is why the exercise is called “the hundred.” This is the only high-repetition exercise in the Pilates repertoire.

The Roll Up

The roll-up is a full, straight-legged sit-up. It begins in a supine position with the arms extended overhead. Engage your deep abdominal muscles and lift each vertebra from the floor, until you are in an upright position. Then, flex your spine so that your hands reach toward your feet. Engage your core and roll back to the starting position, making sure that each vertebra makes contact with the mat.

The Roll-Over

The roll-over is similar to the yoga position known as the plow, with a distinct difference. There is no such thing as a Pilates “pose.” Pilates involves fluid, continuous movement. The exercise begins in a supine position with your legs lifted to a 90-degree angle. Use your core muscles to lift your tailbone from the floor. Continue to lift each vertebra, until your legs are over your head, and your thighs are parallel to your forehead. If you are flexible, lower your feet so that they touch the floor, then roll back to the starting position.

The Double Leg Kick

The Pilates technique balances flexion with extension exercises. The double leg kick is an example of a spinal extension exercise. Begin in a prone position, and clasp your hands behind your back. Bend your knees and kick both heels toward your buttocks. Then, simultaneously straighten your legs, and lift your legs and upper torso from the mat.


Swimming is a Pilates spinal extension exercise that involves patience and coordination. Begin in the prone position, with your legs straight and your arms extended overhead. Contract your abdominal and gluteal muscles and lift your upper and lower body from the floor. Begin a fluttering movement with your arms and legs. Left leg and right arm, and right leg and left arm are simultaneously elevated.

The Spinal Twist

While many of the Pilates oblique exercises are performed from the supine position, some are performed while seated upright. This is good news for anyone who experiences neck tension during traditional abdominal exercise. Sit in an upright position with your legs extended in front of you. Lift your straight arms to the sides, and bring them to shoulder height. Imagine that your spine is a barber poll, and your ribs are the stripes that spiral around the straight, central axis. Stabilize your hips and rotate your ribs to the right. Initiate the movement from your obliques, not from your head or shoulders. Return to center and repeat on the other side.

Front-Back Leg Swing

Pilates devised a number of side-lying exercises for the leg muscles. The front-back kick is an example. Lie on your side with our legs extended. Your knees, hips and shoulders should be on one straight line. Engage your core muscles to stabilize your spine. Lift your top leg, and swing it front of and behind your body. Perform a set of eight repetitions, and then change sides.

About this Author

Lisa Marie Mercer has been a professional writer for nearly 10 years. She has authored “Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness,” “Breckenridge: A Guide to the Sights and Slopes of Summit County” and “101 Fitness Tips for Women.” She’s worked as a fitness professional, tour guide and ski resort employee. Her work has appeared in “Aspen Magazine,” “HerSports,” “The Professional Skier,” “Pregnancy Magazine” and “Wired.”