All the straps, springs, and moving parts of a typical Reformer class make Pilates seem almost scary compared to those yoga classes full of flickering candles, blocks, and cozy blankets.
Plus, fancy machines mean Pilates can be pretty pricey — upward of $40 per class at some studios!
Add in the svelte celebrity fans applauding the workout, and we don’t blame you for thinking it all seems a little intimidating — and out of your budget.
But before you pass up on Pilates, we have some good news: You don’t need any extra equipment to reap the physical and mental benefits — all you need is a mat.
Mat based Pilates is a gentle, low-impact, yet serious strength workout that research shows can help ease low back pain,
In fact, mat Pilates can be even more effective than using a Reformer since you’re using your own bodyweight to strengthen your muscles and stabilize your joints, says Taylor Phillips, a Pilates manager at Equinox.
Here, Phillips demonstrates a 20-minute Pilates mat workout — no gym or weird apparatus needed.
Whether you’re new to Pilates or you’re an experienced pro, you can follow along, taking modifications or more advanced positions where noted. Complete 3 rounds of the following moves for an intense full-body burn.
Stand with your feet parallel, hip-width apart. Inhale, then exhale while extending your arms up and reaching through your upper back.
Inhale, then exhale and slowly roll down toward the floor one vertebrae at a time. Sit back as if sitting in a chair before reaching up and lifting your heels. Return to standing.
Reps: 15 per side
Walk your hands out to Plank Pose. Engage your abs to draw your right knee into your chest. Extend your leg back, pointing toes to the ceiling and engaging glutes and hamstrings. Repeat for 5 reps.
Next, bring your right knee to your left shoulder in the same manner for 5 reps. Bring your right knee to right shoulder for 5 reps. Repeat entire series on the other leg.
Make it easier: Lower knees to the ground and limit leg range of motion.
Bring your knees and tops of your feet to the floor with knees directly under hips, feet touching.
Hinge your upper body back about 45 degrees, engaging abs, glutes, and feet. Maintain a straight line from head to knees. Return to the starting position.
Make it harder: Sustain the hinge position and lower and lift your arms 10 times.
Reps: 10 lifts and 10 circles per leg
From kneeling, lower your left hand to the ground and extend opposite right leg out, holding your right hand behind your head.
Lift your right leg to hip height, then lower for 10 reps. Then hold your leg at hip height and rotate leg in small circles for 10 reps.
Make it easier: Lie on your side instead of kneeling.
Reps: 10 to 15
Lie faceup. Raise shoulders off the ground slightly and engage abdominals to support your lower back. Extend your arms by your ears and raise your legs to a 45-degree angle from the floor. Circle your arms around and hug knees to chest.
Make it easier: Keep your legs at a 90-degree angle and rest your head.
Make it harder: Scissor legs on top of each other for 5 beats with each extension.
Reps: 10 per leg
Lie faceup. Lift your head and neck to raise shoulders slightly off the ground. Hover your left leg 1 inch above the mat and point your toes to engage the quad.
Extend your right leg to the ceiling and bring your hands to your ankle. Use your abs and leg muscles to pull your right leg in toward your forehead, then switch legs. Maintain hip stability throughout the exercise.
Make it easier: Softly bend your knees and keep your head down.
Make it harder: Reach arms by your ears throughout, keeping hands out.
Lie faceup, arms at sides. Curl your head, neck, and shoulders up, and extend your legs to a sustainable level. Find the sweet spot where your abs stay engaged but your lower back is not lifting from the mat.
Begin pumping your arms up and down, breathing in for 5 counts and exhaling for 5 counts, totaling 10 breath cycles.
Make it easier: Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle (as shown).
Reps: 5 per side
Lie on your right side, supporting your body with your right hand. Engage core and rotate your hips to lift legs as high as possible from the floor to engage obliques. Return to starting position with control.
Reps: 5 to 8
Lie facedown. Draw shoulder blades down the back and place hands underneath shoulders. Engage core and lift head slightly.
Raise your chest up and extend your arms forward. Lift legs 1 inch above the mat. Bend elbows so your arms form a “W” shape. Hold, then lower down to the mat.
Reps: 10 kicks and 15 to 20 circles in each direction per side
Lying on your left side, bring your legs slightly in front of your hips to create a kickstand. Lift right leg to hip height and kick forward and back, maintaining upper body stability and pointing your toes. Repeat for 10 reps.
Next, pause at hip height, point your foot, and rotate in small circles (about the size of a tennis ball). Circle 15 to 20 times in each direction.
Lie faceup with your arms extended behind your head. Engage your core, lift your head, and raise your arms toward the ceiling to roll up smoothly.
Reach forward (like you’re trying to grab your toes) while drawing your waist back. This creates length along the spine and maintains a feeling of drawing your abs in. Slowly roll back down and repeat.
Who says a great workout needs to take a long time? Now that we’ve gone over good form for each exercise, it’s time to perform all 11 moves in order. Complete 3 sets in a row, and don’t forget to cool down and stretch your body.
Thanks to Lululemon for outfitting our model in the Wunder Under Pant and Cool Racerback.