Hailey Bieber put Pilates in the spotlight this year - your complete guide to Pilates exercises

Two pros share everything they know about Pilates exercises, plus why they're so great for general fitness.

Hailey Bieber on her way home after doing some pilates exercises at a studio
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Pilates exercises were one of the most popular sweat sessions of last year. Case in point: search for Pilates is at breakout on Google, and the Pilates hashtag on Tiktok currently has 23.4 billion views.

Celebrities are a fan of a good Pilates workout, too: model Lori Harvey dedicated an entire Tiktok video to her love of the workout, and Hailey Bieber and Kendall Jenner are regularly seen attending Reformer Pilates classes together.  

Pilates actually gets its name from its original creator, Joseph Pilates. "Joseph created Pilates exercises to train his own body and mind, shares Amanda Baracho, Master Trainer and Co-Founder of X-Pilates.

According to Baracho, more than twelve million people practice Pilates around the world, and while many confuse Pilates vs yoga, they're actually very different.

"Originally called Contrology, he recognised the workout's true power when he started to use it to rehabilitate soldiers coming back from WWI," she adds.

Keen to give Pilates exercises a go? Keep scrolling as Baracho and Hollie Grant, award-winning Pilates Instructor and founder of Pilates PT explain their go-to moves, plus how to perfect them from home.

Don't miss our guides to Pilates for beginners, the best Pilates ab workout, and the many benefits of Pilates, while you're here.


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Pilates exercises: your guide

What is Pilates?

Pilates is a training method that aims to create a strong, functional body "by reducing muscle imbalances and increasing core strength," shares Grant.

"Pilates exercises can be performed using bodyweight alone, but there is Pilates equipment that you can also use in studio or at home, such as a Cadillac, Reformer or a Wunda chair," Grant continues.

The workout is unique in the sense that it works your body and mind at the same time, creating a strong mind-body connection, Baracho shares. How? Well, you have to focus on each move and prioritise good form during each session, meaning that both your brain and body are getting a good workout. 

"A Pilates exercise always blends six key principles: concentration, control, centre, flow, precision and breathing. It demands your full concentration, building your mind-body connection" adds Baracho.

There are a whole host of benefits of Pilates, as our feature highlights.  

As well as boosting musculoskeletal strength to make you feel stronger, more mobile and better your posture, it can strengthen your core, boost your energy, and improve your breathing, too. 

We particularly love the fact that Pilates works both body and mind, too. "Pilates forces you to move in a mindful way," shares Baracho. "This will help you to recognise tension in your body and learn how to release it."

Ready to scroll their go-to Pilates exercises? You're in the right place.

Pilates kit to invest in for your workout

Like a Cloud Longline Bra - £58, lululemon

Like a Cloud Longline Bra - £58, lululemon

One of Health Editor Ally Head's favourite bras for low impact workouts, this bras is soft to the touch and extra supportive. 

Ultimate Crop Shorts in Deep Sand - £32.99, Adanola

Ultimate Crop Shorts in Deep Sand - £32.99, Adanola

Quality kit doesn't have to cost the earth, as athleisurewear brand Adanola is proving. These crop shorts are comfortable yet affordable. Opt for darker colour options if you're someone who likes sweatier workout sessions, like HIIT or running.

Ascend Bike Short in Tie Dye Print - £81, P.E. Nation

Ascend Bike Short in Tie Dye Print - £81, P.E. Nation

Another of Ally's favourite brands, P.E Nation's designs are sweat-wicking and stylish, too. While they're a higher price point,  they're an investment and will last the long run. 

Flow organic combed cotton gripper socks - £12.99, HipSwan

Flow organic combed cotton gripper socks - £12.99, HipSwan

Made in Brighton, hipSwan socks are ethically made and designed for those of you who want to support sustainable brands without compromising on performance. These gripper socks are ideal for Pilates and will reduce your slippage during mat and Reformer work. (Scroll our edit of the other best Pilates socks, here).

7 best Pilates exercises to try, recommended by experts

Below, Baracho demonstrates her go-to Pilates exercises. 

1. The roll down

The roll down is a Pilates exercise ideal for those with lower back tension as it helps to open up the postural chain. It can also promote spine mobility.

How to? Start with a lengthened, neutral spine, legs parallel and hip-width apart. Then breathe in and out as you roll your entire spine forwards and down. Roll as far as you can without your hips hinging, explains Baracho. "Breathe in as you begin to roll your pelvis underneath you, and breathe out as you roll back up through your spine, restacking each vertebra one by one," she continues.

How long? Aim for 60 seconds, and repeat up to ten times.

2. The hundreds

Next up: the hundreds, a classic Pilates mat exercise and usually one of the first in a Pilates class. 

How to? Start by lying on your back and focusing on your breathing. Then, "as you breathe out, curl up your neck and shoulders. Maintaining length in the arms, raise them slightly from the mat." Keep the core engaged, and breathe in for five seconds, while remaining in the curled-up position. Then, "beat your arms up and down five times," Baracho suggests. Breathe out for a count of five.

How long?  Ten seconds each, but repeat ten full breaths to reach one hundred.

Want to challenge yourself? "Raise your legs to double tabletop and lengthen your legs away, keeping the connection in your inner thighs," is Baracho's challenge.

3. The Mermaid

The mermaid is a mat exercise that promises to open up and lengthen the side body and hips. 

How to? Begin in a seated position and lift your spine from your centre", shares the expert. Then breathe in and raise your left arm overhead and to the side. As you breathe out, reach up and over, bending your spine to the side. Focus on breathing laterally, recommends Baracho. "Then, breathe out as you straighten the left arm and return the spine back to the vertical position."

How long?  Repeat up to five times before changing to work on the other side.

4. The Open leg rocker

What it should be: Targeting and strengthening the abdominal muscles as well as stimulating the spine, the open leg rocker can improve balance, coordination, and flexibility. 

How to? "Start in a C-Curve position, sitting with your pelvis rolled underneath you," shares the expert. Then, holding on to your ankles, lift your feet off the mat and your chest at the same time to find balance. "Breathe in and lift your legs up into a 'V' shape, and as you breathe out, rock back onto your back, she continues. Remember to be gentle.

How long?  Hold for 30 seconds and repeat up to five times.

5. Single straight leg stretch

This is a spicy one, according to Grant. "Clients love them as they feel the burn immediately," she shares. It's great for challenging pelvic stability, too.

How to? Start by lying on a mat. Curl up and engage the core. Lower the left leg, while stretching it out in line with the hip and simultaneously pulling the right leg towards you with a controlled double pulse, Baracho advises. Change legs whilst breathing in - just one leg at a time.

How long? Aim for 60 seconds, rest and repeat up to five times.

6. Shoulder bridge

This Pilates exercise works on a bit of everything. It can help mobilise the spine, work on the glutes, core and back muscles, too. 

How to? Lay on your back, and engage the glutes as you lift your hips up off the mat and hold in the air. "Be careful not to place any weight on the head or neck," Baracho warns. Hold for 60 seconds (or as long as you are able), and then lower down back onto the mat. 

How long? 60 seconds - repeat up to ten times.

7. Four point kneeling swing

This Pilates exercise aims to strengthen the hips, pelvis, and shoulders. Baracho breaks it down for us. 

How to? Start on your hands and knees. While maintaining a engaged core, pelvis and spine. Raise one leg behind you, keeping it in line with the hip. At the same time, raise the opposite arm in line with your shoulder. Breathe in and bring back to hands and knees before repeating with the opposite arm and leg. 

How long? 30 seconds - repeat up to five times on each side. 

Dionne Brighton

Dionne Brighton is a writer at Marie Claire UK, specialising in all things shopping, beauty and fashion. Born and raised in North London, she studied Literature at the University of East Anglia before taking the leap into journalism. These days, you can find her testing out the latest TikTok beauty trends or finding out what the next full Moon means.