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The 5 best full body workout Pilates exercises and how to get the most out of them!

We have all been doing more at home, and sounds like Pilates is a common one (and also our favourite!) that people have picked up in our tumultuous 2020. And why not? It’s easy to do at home, has a good beginner level to get back into exercising for those that may have neglected this during lockdown, and it’s great for your body! 

Whether you’re following an online video, booked into a class, or just want a full body beginner friendly but effective workout then Pilates and these 5 exercises are for you!

Technique is the key to Pilates being most effective (and the same for a lot of other exercise): so here are our top most common exercises that people will start with in their classes and fantastic for anyone anywhere, how you may be doing them wrong, and how you can get the most out of them!

Pelvic Curl/bridges:

A great exercise for spinal elongation, glute and hamstring work and control of the spine. 

Try for 3 sets of 8-12. 

Muscles working: Abdominals, glutes, hamstrings

Common mistakes: 

  • Not engaging abdominals and/or coming up too high: 
    • This will make the low back muscles work and the glutes unable to work
  • How to fix it: Try to keep your ribs hanging towards the floor as you lift your hips. This will help to keep the lower back more neutral and encourage more glute activity.

Found that easy? 

Try this! Progression: 

Try for 3 sets of 8-12 on each side. 

Single leg

  • Perform the same movement but with one leg in the air, either at table top (90-90), or with the leg straight with the thighs parallel.

Chest Lift:

The start of learning your abdominal work, a great foundation exercise to add to in many different ways.

Try for 3 sets of 8- 12. 

Muscles working: Abdominals

Common mistakes: 

Forcing the arms forward

  • Make sure you aren’t pulling on your neck! Keep your elbows open (you should only be able to just see them in your peripheral vision) and lift up by pulling your lower ribs towards your pelvis
  • If pulling forward is a habit you can’t break, try to have your hands by your hips and reach for your feet as you come up

Tummy bracing or popping

  • Tummy should be pulling into your spine so you shouldn’t be able to see it pop up, remember to engage your core!

Pelvis tilting

  • Keep the pelvis in a neutral position (like you could balance a glass of water on the front of your pelvis), so that it is more your abdominals working and not your hip flexors.

Found that easy? 

Try this! Progression: 

Try for 3 sets of 8-12 on each side. 

Legs at table top

  • Bring both legs to table top (90-90) and hold them there as you perform the chest lift

Basic Back Extension:

Try for 10 x 5 second holds 

Lengthening for the chest and strengthening between the shoulder blades. Great to start reversing all that time hunched at a desk!

Muscles working: upper and middle back (mid to lower trapezius, rhomboids, spine extensors)

Common mistakes: 

  • Lifting too high
  • You should only feel the work of this exercise down to your lower ribs, not into your lower back. If you are feeling a lot of lower back work in this exercise, chances are you are lifting too high.

Found that easy? 

Try this! Progression: 

Try for 4 sets of 5 second holds. 

W or Y arms

  • Bring your arms up into a W or Y shape and lift your arms, head and chest from this position. This will encourage more arm and back work

 ½ cobra

  • Bring your hands under the front of your shoulders and push up onto your elbows while engaging tummy, and slowly lower back down. This will encourage more spinal extension

Side lying leg lift:

Try for 3 sets of 8-12 lifts. 

A great exercise for the glutes, obliques and for your balance and core stability.

Muscles working: obliques, glutes

Common mistakes:

Pelvis rolling backwards, not stabilising torso.

  • Your body should be staying in one straight line, so as you lift the leg, make sure you aren’t trying to get more leg height by rocking the pelvis backwards. Keep your torso strong and stable with a neutral spine, and work the leg as high as you can maintain this.

Found that easy? 

Try this! Progression: 

Try for 3 sets of 8-12 on each side. 

Lift arm off floor, 

  • Challenge your balance by lifting your top arm off the floor. Start by having just a couple of fingers on the floor, then to having the top hand up to the ceiling, and then to having the arm overhead like a diver.

Hover the bottom leg

  • For a stability challenge, have the bottom leg hovering off the floor while you work the top leg, it will be more work in your obliques and the inside thigh of the bottom leg too!

Kneeling swim/bird-dog:

Try for 3 sets of 8-12.

A great full-body exercise to learn body awareness. 

Muscles working: shoulder stabilisers, core muscles, obliques, hip stabilisers, glutes

Common mistakes: 

Lifting too high

  • You should be able to maintain your neutral spine the whole time, so if you lift too high you will move your back into extension which will work the wrong muscles and possibly even cause injury. Keep your core engaged and work around it with the arms and legs, so even if the range isn’t too high, it should work the right muscles harder.

Not controlling spine

  • Use a small soft ball or a container to rest on your lower back to give you some feedback of where your body is in space so that you can feel when you are not in control of your spine.
  • You can also do this exercise in front of a mirror so you can see what you are doing with your body

Found that easy?

Try this! Progression: 

Try for 3 sets of 8-12 lifts. 


  • Perform the exercise the same as above, but keep working with one diagonal, and instead of returning to the start position, bring your elbow and knee towards each other and curl your spine before sending arm and leg back out long.

Of course, the best way to experience Pilates is in a face-to-face class to get immediate and specific feedback from your instructor. Premier Sports and Spinal Medicine offers Clinical Pilates so you can have a program tailored to your body to get the most out of your Pilates sessions!

Looking to make an appointment or book a class?

We are here to help! Please call and speak to one of our practitioners if you have any questions. Making an appointment & booking classes online is also one of the most convenient way to lock in the practitioner, location & time you want.