At first glance, a Pilates studio might look like a medieval torture chamber, with strange straps and metal springs hanging from the ceiling and padded platforms called “the Reformer.” In reality, Pilates is a form of exercise that aims to develop flexibility, good posture, strength, and balance all at the same time Eight-week traditional mat Pilates training-program effects on adult fitness characteristics. Rogers K, Gibson AL. Wellness Center, University of Miami, USA. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 2009 September; 80(3):596-74. .

In the early 20th century, Joseph Pilates invented the series of movements to help English veterans recover from injuries sustained during the First World War. Since then, Pilates has been the go-to regimen for anyone—from New York City Ballet dancers to Madonna to the San Francisco 49ers—interested in working on strength, grace, and of course, a solid core.

While some Pilates classes feature special machines, mat classes require bodyweight alone and are easy to replicate at home Pilates for improvement of muscle endurance, flexibility, balance, and posture. Kloubec JA. Department of Health and Exercise Science, Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN, USA. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010 March; 24(3):661-7. . There are dozens of individual exercises, so we asked Sarah Ruback of Core Pilates NYC to pick out a few key moves. (For further instruction, check out CorePilates’ series of demo videos.) Ruback suggests holding one-to-two-pound dumbbells (or water bottles or soup cans at home) to make this workout even more challenging. The focus here is quality, not quantity, so work on making each rep as strong as possible and don’t stress about the number of reps.

More of a Pilates pro than a beginner? If this routine made you yawn, stretch out each movement as much as possible. Moving slowly and focusing on the correct form can help even advanced practitioners feel the burn in every muscle.

Special thanks to Core Pilates NYC instructor Sarah Ruback for creating the workout for this article.

Have you ever turned your living room floor into a private Pilates studio? What are your favorite moves? Tweet the author at @SophBreene.

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