Get The Best Pilates Exercises Into Your Workouts To Maximize the Whole-Body Health Benefits of the Pilates System

by | Jan 31, 2017 | Pilates Exercises, Techniques & Teaching Tips | 0 comments

Are you interested in getting the best Pilates exercises in your weekly workout routine to maximize the whole-body health benefits from your efforts?  Check out my myth-busting training tips to be sure you’re working everything from your head to your toes to harness the true power of the Pilates System.

On a pretty regular basis I have clients ask me what the best Pilates exercises are they can use to fix a problem area, spot-tone, or solve a nagging ache or pain.  And occasionally there can be one specific exercise that works to help head them in the right direction to get results. But more often there’s not one exercise that will ever be the BE ALL, END ALL, only thing you need to do to improve your health.  That’s like wanting to take that “magic pill” to lose weight, or expecting surgery to take you from incapacitated to better than new.  It just doesn’t work that way!

Recently, I had an old friend call me who’s got a back pain problem.  He’d tried physical therapy (before he knew exactly what was wrong…) then pain meds, and then finally went to the doctor.  Definitely a backwards order to address the issue, but at least he finally knows what’s wrong, and can start working on a real solution.  His doctor recommended Pilates, and told him he needed “rock hard Abs” and Pilates would help with that.  His PT gave him an exercise sheet with a couple of Pilates Mat exercises.  Then he remembered that he had a friend that teaches Pilates, so he called to get some insights on how to proceed.  Not sure he loved my answer…  Since I couldn’t recommend that he just pull a couple exercises out of the Matwork series to solve his back pain problems, but that I needed to see and work with him to help get the best Pilates exercises into his program, and that Matwork probably wouldn’t be what I would start with for his particular back issues. (And in my opinion, “rock hard Abs” aren’t the full solution either!)

Then, while I was at the doctor’s office chatting with a gal in the lab, she found out I taught Pilates and her comment was, “Pilates is really hard, I’ve done a class or two at the gym, I’m not very good at it.”  So I asked, “Have you ever had a lesson with the Pilates equipment?”  And her response; “There’s Pilates equipment?

Why yes, Pilates is a SYSTEM, which includes a series of Matwork or floorwork exercises and specialized spring-tensioned equipment.  To get the best benefits from Pilates, it’s ideal that you work the system, incorporating both the Matwork and Pilates exercises on the Reformer, Cadillac, Chairs, and Barrels into your workouts.

This reminds me that even though Pilates has been around since the 1920’s, and has gained huge popularity in the past 20 years, there are still lots of people who really know nothing about the health benefits of the Pilates system.  As Pilates professionals, we’ve still got a little bit of myth-busting to do to help people get the best Pilates exercises in to their weekly workout routine.  Ready?  Here we go…

My Myth-Busting Training Tips To Help You Get the Best Pilates Exercises into Your Workouts

  1. Doing one or two “Pilates” exercises during a workout does not make it a Pilates workout.  Remember, Pilates is a SYSTEM.  Ideally a Pilates workout includes a series of exercises on the Reformer, plus Matwork, and perhaps a few supplemental exercises on the Cadillac, Chairs, or Barrels.
  2. Don’t expect to get 6-pack Abs from just doing Pilates! Sure you’re going to get stronger and longer.  But we’re not just working that pretty Rectus muscle that lays on top.  We’re working all the deeper layers of abdominal and back muscles to improve posture, gait, and core support.  Plus – Your body fat percentage has a lot to do with it to be able to see that muscle definition.  Sorry, but better nutrition is going to help you make that change more that exercise!
  3. Not every Pilates exercise is for every BODY. (And this holds true for all fitness exercises.)  Knowing what injuries, limitations, or health issues you have and respecting them, means making safe and appropriate exercises choices.  If you don’t know which are the best Pilates exercises for your body, seek out the expert advice from a well-trained and experienced Pilates teacher who can help design a personalized Pilates workout plan for you to get the best Pilates exercises into your training program.
  4. A lot of Pilates “Classes” these days are on ONE piece of Pilates equipment. Maybe you participate in a Pilates Reformer class, a Pilates Tower class, or a Pilates Mat class.  This is Fine.  But please note, if you want to really maximize the benefits you receive from the Pilates system, be sure you’re taking a variety of classes that will have you utilizing each piece of the Pilates apparatus.  Or better yet, take some Private training sessions to supplement your group classes and work on your individual needs and goals.  This will let you enjoy working out with the best Pilates exercises and equipment that can help you reach your wellness goals.
  5. Oh and FYI, Group Pilates classes aren’t for every BODY either! If you have any health issues, or are recovering from an injury or accident, Pilates can be an excellent method to help you regain, strength, flexibility, and fitness.  But to ensure your safety, don’t go to a group class!  Take Private Sessions until your teacher tells you its OK to join a group, and can direct you to a class that’s paced appropriately for your body and level of experience.
  6. Pilates done well is like peeling back layers of an onion… there always seems to be another layer! It’s not just, here’s an exercise do it…  It’s here’s an exercise now fine-tune it!  There is so much involved with improving your healthy movement habits and using the Pilates system to facilitate it.  Every moment of a Pilates workout you’re focused…Ideally you need to know what to pay attention to, which muscles you need find, and the specific order to fire them in to move smoothly, then there are probably a few muscles you’ve been over-using that need to learn to let go…  There is a specific breath pattern for every exercise, and learning how to “ride the breath” while you’re moving is key to developing healthy movement habits.  And to continue to improve your health and maximize the results from your Pilates workouts, the goal is to always strive to make each and every repetition better than the last so you leave your muscles with good memory for how to work efficiently to move well.

Is your head spinning wondering if you’ve ever really done a Pilates workout?  Are you still wondering, “what are the BEST Pilates exercises for MY Body?”  I can’t give you specific exercises here, because I need to see your body in action, watch you stand and move, learn more about your health goals, and know the answer to the all-important question, “Is your body 100% healthy, or have you now (or ever) experienced a muscle, joint, or medical issue?”  Because ALL of this information is pertinent to help ensure that the exercises selected for your Pilates workouts are the best Pilates exercises for your body, based on how it feels today. (Any past traumas or injuries might have you a little out of balance!) Knowing this info can help keep you safe and help your Pilates teacher make smart exercise choices to work on balanced muscle development and keep you moving towards better health.

Ultimately a Pilates workout is designed to develop the body uniformly, with the goal of getting your weaker muscles in balance with the dominant, strong ones.  Every exercise is initiated from the center, and develops a combination of both strength and flexibility to improve posture, breathing, body alignment, and functional movement.  Your multi-tasking mind has to work as hard as your muscles to do Pilates well and get maximum benefits from each and every workout.

A well-balanced Pilates training session (for a HEALTHY BODY) should include both strength and flexibility exercises, as well as exercises that focus on stabilization, and exercises that focus on movement.  This should be done for EVERY piece and moving part of the body to ensure a total body workout to develop whole-body health.

Types of Movements to Include in Every Pilates Workout:

  • Pilates Exercises for the SPINE (in all ranges of motion) – flexion, extension, side bending, and rotation.
  • Pilates Exercises for the Pelvis – stabilization, movement, and gait.
  • Pilates Exercises for the Hips,& Thighs– flexion, extension, Abduction, Adduction, and Circumduction, as well as inward and outward rotation of the hip.  And at the Knee joint – flexion and extension.
  • Pilates Exercises for the Feet – Ankles, Arches, and Toes, AND Calves (point & flex, as well as medial/lateral, diagonal, and circular ankle/foot motion)
  • Pilates Exercises for the Arms and Shoulders – stabilization and movement, arms moving in front, to the side, and behind the body, outward & upward rotation, inward & downward rotation, rotator cuff, forearm, wrist, and hand.

Some of the basic Pilates exercises isolate these specific types of movements.  The more intermediate and advanced Pilates exercises can combine some, or all, of these types of movement into one complex and challenging exercise!

The best Pilates exercises will be the ones your body can do SAFELY and Correctly to develop better strength, balance, and body control. 

Keep in mind, that doing a couple of Pilates exercises, or Pilates-inspired exercises isn’t going to give you optimal benefits.  Get help from a qualified Pilates professional to help you confidently know which exercises are the best Pilates exercises for your body, and learn how to do them to the very best of your ability.  Work the Pilates system, utilize the Pilates equipment, do your Pilates Matwork exercises (if appropriate), and enjoy the health benefits the Pilates system offers to improve your whole-body health.


Interested in finding a PMA Certified Pilates Teacher in your local area to help you get the best Pilates exercises in your wellness training program?  Visit the Pilates Method Alliance website to search for a local Pilates Teacher to help you.

Live close to me?  I’d love to help you!  Contact me at BODHI BODY – A Centerworks® Pilates Studio and let’s get started.

Aliesa George: Over the past three decades, Aliesa George has helped assist people with their personal health journeys by sharing, teaching, and developing Pilates, Foot Fitness, and other Mind-Body programs.


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