The Best No-Equipment Pilates Moves To Strengthen Your Core

Does Pilates kind of seem like an only-for-Goop-readers fitness trend to you? If so, please consider rethinking this. In reality, Pilates is anything but a trend — it’s been around in some form for more than 100 years — and was originally designed as a form of physical therapy, not as a way to get “longer, leaner” muscles (#eyeroll #nothowmuscleswork). Sure, Pilates is a very challenging workout, but you might actually want to think of it as a form of foundation-building for movement. Basically, it’ll help ensure that everything you do — from other exercise to walking around to picking up and putting down everyday objects — is done safely, efficiently, and effectively. If you’ve ever tried to pick up a heavy suitcase without bracing your core first, you know what we mean. “Pilates works to build core and overall strength, flexibility, and balance,” says Angilique Campbell, a New York City-based Pilates instructor. “Professional dancers and NFL and NBA players do Pilates, as do new moms, seniors, and people recovering from knee surgery. This method is truly appropriate for everybody, regardless of age and level of fitness.”

And while one-on-one Pilates sessions with a trainer (which tend to involve traditional equipment such as towers, reformers, and chairs) are great, you don’t have to have any special gear to get an amazing Pilates workout. In fact, all you really need is a clear space on the floor and a yoga mat (or two, if you like some extra cushioning).

Pilates makes you stronger, more flexible, and is basically free. That’s why we’re so excited to bring you some of the best Pilates moves out there, in this story, that we’ll be adding to regularly throughout the year. Consider it your guide to gradually incorporating Pilates into your routine.

Campbell, who suggested these moves and doubles as our fitness model here, recommends doing Pilates two to three days per week, and balancing your fitness routine with cardiovascular exercise (e.g. running, swimming) and strength training (e.g. weightlifting). Each of the moves should be performed for about 8 to 12 repetitions, except for the "Hundred." (Don’t worry, we’ll get to that.)

Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Scissors
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest and your arms long by your sides. Lift your head and shoulders off the mat and extend both legs up to the ceiling. Place both hands behind your right leg — above or below the knee — and pull it in towards your chest in two short pulses to stretch your hamstring, as your left leg lowers toward the mat.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Scissors (cont.)
2. Switch legs, pulling your left leg toward your chest in two short pulses and letting your right leg lower toward the ground. Repeat 8 to 10 times per leg.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Roll-Up
1. Lie on your back with your legs glued together and your feet flexed. Reach your arms above your face, with your hands at about eye level, and pull your belly button in towards your spine.


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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Roll-Up (cont.)
2. Inhale as you left your chin towards your chest, curling your head, shoulders, and back up and off the mat.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Roll-Up (cont.)
3. Exhale to reach your arms and the crown of your head forward so your body is in a "C"-curve position. Inhale and start to roll back onto the mat sequentially through the spine. Exhale, lowering your shoulders and head last, back to the starting position. Repeat 8 to 10 times.


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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Rolling Like A Ball
1. Begin sitting with your knees bent and your feet on the mat, heels together and toes apart. Hook your hands under the back of your knees or around your ankles. Lift both feet off the mat, finding balance — lower your forehead to your knees and keep your back rounded.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Rolling Like A Ball (cont.)
2. Rock back to the tips of your shoulder blades, and rock back up to a seated position, using your abs to keep yourself balanced — try not to let your feet touch the mat. Repeat 5 to 8 times.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Push-Up
1. Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders and knees right under your hips. Extend one leg at a time out into a plank position, with your heels together and toes apart in a Pilates "V."

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Push-Up (cont.)
2. Bend your elbows, keeping them tucked near to your ribcage, as you lower your chest towards the floor. Then push back up to straight arms. Perform two sets of 4-8 push-ups, then lower your knees to the mat and push your hips back onto your heels into a child's pose to rest.

Tip: During the push-up, pull your belly button in and maintain a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Don't do the worm!

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Prone Heel Beats
1. Lie prone (face-down on the mat) with your hands stacked and your forehead resting on your hands. Press your pubic bone into the mat and pull your belly button in towards your spine to engage your abdominal muscles.
2. Lift both legs off the mat, keeping them straight; bring your heels together and your toes apart in a Pilates "V."

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Prone Heel Beats (cont.)
3. Beat your heels together, quickly opening and closing the legs with a gentle tap of the heels. Perform 16-32 beats; then, lower your legs to the mat. Gently rock your hips from side to side to release any tension in your lower back.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Shoulder Bridge With Leg Lift
1. Begin lying on your back with knees bent, feet together and flat on the mat, and arms long by your sides.
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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Shoulder Bridge With Leg Lift (cont.)
2. Tuck your tailbone under (imagine tilting your hips toward your ribs) and press hips up toward the ceiling, into a bridge.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Shoulder Bridge With Leg Lift (cont.)
3. Keep the hips lifted as you extend the right leg forward, knees touching.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Shoulder Bridge With Leg Lift (cont.)
4. Lift right leg up to the ceiling and lower it, with control, about halfway to the mat, then continue lifting and lowering for 5 to 10 reps. Then bend the right knee and plant the foot back on the mat, keeping the hips lifted. Repeat the lift-and-lower sequence on the left side, then return left foot to mat. Once both feet are on the mat, roll back down with control to the starting position.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Single-Leg Stretch
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent in toward your chest and arms by your sides. Lift your head and shoulders off the mat and hug the left knee into your chest as you extend the right leg forward.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Single-Leg Stretch (cont.)
2. Switch legs, hugging the right knee in and extending the left leg forward. Perform 8 to 10 reps on each leg.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Swimming
1. Lie facedown with your arms extended forward and your forehead resting on the mat. Lift your upper and lower body off the mat as if you were flying. Begin to flutter your arms and legs (raising the right leg and left arm simultaneously, then switching to the left leg and right arm).
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Swimming (cont.)
2. Continue moving your arms and legs up and down at a swift pace, keeping your chest lifted and neck long. "Swim" for 15 to 30 seconds, then rest and repeat.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Walk The Plank
1. Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Extend both legs out behind you in a plank position, keeping a straight line from your head to your heels.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Walk The Plank (cont.)
2. Lower your left forearm onto the mat, then your right forearm.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Walk The Plank (cont.)
3. When you've transitioned into a forearm plank, reverse: Place the left hand on the mat to straighten the left arm, and then place the right hand on the mat to straighten the right arm. Repeat the sequence, starting with the right arm first followed by the left arm. Perform for 30 seconds, then take a break, repeat.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Clam Variation
1. Lie on your left side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your feet in line with your hips. Prop your head up onto your left hand and place your right hand on the mat in front of you. Lift your top knee, keeping your toes together.


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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Clam Variation (cont.)
2. Lower your top knee until it touches your bottom knee, as you raise your top foot. Continue switching from toe-to-toe to knee-to-knee for 8 to 10 reps. Then repeat on the right side.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Corkscrew
1. Lie on your back with your hands by your sides and extend the legs up toward the ceiling with heels together and toes apart.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Corkscrew (cont.)
2. Keeping the upper body and hips still, begin to circle the legs toward the right side, then down toward the center, then to the left, then back to the start. Perform 4 to 8 circles in this direction.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Corkscrew (cont.)
3. Then reverse directions, performing 4 to 8 circles toward the left, then down, then up the right side, then back to the start.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Criss-Cross
1. Lie on your back with your hands behind your head and your knees bent in towards your chest. Curl your head and shoulders off of the mat and extend the right leg to a diagonal as you twist the right armpit toward the left knee.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Criss-Cross (cont.)
2. Twist to the other side, bringing the left armpit toward the right knee as the left leg extends. Repeat 8-10 times on each side. Tip: Keep the head and shoulders lifted off the mat the entire time (don't lower as you twist from side to side).
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Double Leg Stretch
1. Lie on your back, hugging your knees into your chest. Lift your head and shoulders off of the mat, pulling your belly button in towards the spine.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Double Leg Stretch (cont.)
2. Inhale to extend and reach your arms and legs in opposite directions, keeping the shoulders away from the ears and the legs glued together. Then, exhale to circle the arms around and hug both knees into the chest. Repeat 8-10 times.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Half Teaser, Half Roll-Down
1. Start sitting upright with your knees bent, feet flat on the mat, and arms extended forward, palms facing each other. Lift your feet off the mat to about knee-height with your legs in a diamond shape (heels together, toes apart, and knees apart).
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Half Teaser, Half Roll-Down (cont.)
2. Inhale to lean back halfway towards the mat as you extend your legs forward, keeping them lifted. Exhale to sit up tall, bending your knees into the diamond shape again. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Hundred
1. Begin lying on your back with your knees bent in towards the chest. Curl your head and shoulders off of the mat and send your legs to a high diagonal, with your heels together and toes apart. Extend your arms long by your sides and begin pumping them vigorously up and down, inhaling for 5 counts and exhaling for 5 counts.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Hundred (cont.)
2. Continue pumping your arms, keeping your core engaged, until you reach 100. Stop pumping your arms, hug your knees into your chest, lower your head onto the mat, and move your head from side to side to relax your neck. (You can also perform this move with the knees bent in tabletop. If you start feeling too much strain in your neck, you can place one hand behind your head and pump the other, alternating hands every 10 pumps.)

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Kneeling Side Leg Lift
1. Begin in an upright kneeling position and place your left hand on the floor next to your left knee. Extend your right leg out to the side with your foot on the floor, and place your right hand behind your head.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Kneeling Side Leg Lift (cont.)
2. Lift the right leg up to the height of your hip and lower it back to the mat. Repeat 8 to 10 times; then, switch legs.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Knee To Nose
1. Start in a downward-facing-dog position, with your feet planted firmly on the mat, hip-width apart, and your hands shoulder-width apart. Inhale as you float your right leg up towards the ceiling in a downward-dog split, keeping the hips parallel.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Knee To Nose (cont.)
2. Exhale as you bend your right knee in towards your nose, shifting your weight forward into a plank position, with your shoulders over your wrists. Alternate between downward-dog split and knee-to-nose for 5-10 reps. Then, return to downward-facing dog (with both feet on the ground) and repeat on the left side.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Lower Lift
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent into your chest and your hands behind your head. Curl your head and shoulders off of the mat and extend both legs to the ceiling, with heels together and toes apart in a Pilates "V."

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Lower Lift (cont.)
2. Inhale as you lower your legs about halfway towards the mat, and exhale to lift your legs back up towards the ceiling. Repeat 8-10 times. Be sure to pull your belly button inwards throughout the exercise, to keep your abdominals engaged. If you feel any pain in your lower back, you can modify by placing your hands underneath your hips.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Open Leg Rocker
1. Begin sitting upright with your knees bent and your feet flat on the mat, hip-width apart. Hook your hands behind your thighs, with your elbows bent wide to the sides. Lift your feet to knee-level and balance tall on your seat.

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Photographed by James Farrell.
Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Open Leg Rocker (cont.)
2. Round your spine, rock backwards onto your upper back (stopping before you begin to put pressure on your neck), and then rock back up to balance with your feet lifted, sitting up tall. Repeat 5 to 10 times.

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