Pilates Movement Principles and Beginner Exercises

I have been receiving some feedback that many who wish to try pilates are feeling intimidated because there is a lot of verbiage/talk of activating certain muscle groups and areas of the body that are completely foreign to those who(m?) are unfamiliar with pilates basics.

There are 10 Pilates Movement Principles, each of which are equally important to understand as you begin your pilates journey.

Here are four of them, and some ways to practice activating different muscle groups/structures within your body.

Follow along with my downloadable graphic, and scroll to the bottom of the page to view a video of the workout. If you want to do this without hearing me yap at you, follow along with the instructions below!


  • 1. Core Activation

The core is different from the abdominals, and activating the core takes a little bit of mind-body connection, a little practice, and a lot of Pilates 🙂 Follow these exercises to learn how and to practice core activation.


  •  Lying supine (on your back) with your knees bent, feet on the floor hip-width. Place your hands on each sides of your belly button about where your waistband is. Inhale, filling your belly up with air, pressing the belly into your hands. Exhale, feel the air leave your belly.
  • Inhale once more, again pressing your belly into your hands. This time when you exhale, try to keep the belly expanded, pressing into your palms. Feel your belly bracing to keep the pressure against your hands! This bracing sensation is the feeling of your core activating! YAY

Table-top Bracing

  • Lying supine on the floor, bring one leg at a time into ‘table-top‘ position. Keeping knees stacked right on top of your hips, press your palms into the outside of your knees, as if trying to push your knees together. At the same time, use your knees to resist your palms out. You will feel your core activating as perform this ‘isometric‘ exercise!
  • Assume the above position, this time place your hands INSIDE your knees and press out as you press your knees in. Brace your core to keep your knees stacked directly on top of your hips.
  • Keep in mind; this exercise can be performed with head, neck and shoulders flat on the mat OR while holding an abdominal curl. If you choose to hold head neck and shoulder up, remember:
    • 1. Drop your belly button to the floor,
    • 2. Keep your chin lifted away from your chest
    • 3. Keep the shoulder blades adducted and sliding away from your ears
    • 4. keep the heart-center open and the chest lifted towards the knees
  • 2. Abdominal Strengthening

Abdominal strength (as well as core strength) is important for posture, protecting against back injury, balance and stability, and overall longevity.

Basic crunch (Upper Abdominals)

  • Assume the position described in ‘core activation,’ table top legs with abdominal crunch.
    • Circle the arms around and cradle the back of the head in the hands
    • Keep the elbows wide, pointing out perpendicular to the neck and shoulders.
    • Knees hip-width, bent and stacked directly above the hips.
  • Pulse the chest up a few inches towards the knees, while keeping the chin lifted away from the chest and the elbows wide, holding the legs perfectly still, and then release back down. REPEAT

Toe-tap (optional ab curl), (Lower abdominals)

  • Lying supine, head neck and shoulders relaxed, arms long by your side. Press the whole spine into the floor, knees bent hip-width apart. Point the toes and rest them lightly on the mat. From this position you will already feel the lower abdominals engaging just from holding the toes lightly on the floor (imagine if the floor fell out from under your feet, they would not move – that’s how lightly they are resting on the floor). One at a time, without changing the angle of the bend in your knee, pull one knee in towards the belly, and then tap it back down. Repeat side to side.
  • Once you feel comfortable with this motion, try lifting both knees together as one into the belly. Remember:
    • Keep all parts of the spine pressed into the floor
    • Keep the shoulders relaxed, chin away from chest.
    • Knees remain hip-width
    • Angle of the bend in your knees remains the same
    • Toes tap LIGHTLY back to the floor

Criss-cross, (optional ab curl), (obliques/transverse abdominals)

  • Supine, knees bent in front of you, feet. Press all parts of the spine into the floor, circle hands around the back of the head and hold elbows wide. Maintaining bend in knee, pull the left knee towards the chest and lift the right shoulder to the left knee, (imagine your trying to press the left hip bone and the right-side rib cage together). Release back down, repeat with right knee, left shoulder. and switch.
  • To start, relax head/neck/shoulders down in between rotation.
  • As you grow more comfortable with the exercise, try lifting up into an abdominal curl and bringing knees to table top. As you reach shoulder towards bent knee, straighten the other leg long away from you. Switch. Try to do the exercise SLOW and with CONTROL.
  • 3. Lumbopelvic Stability

The lumbopelvic region, or the pelvic girdle, is made up of the pelvic floor muscles, multifidus, transverse abdominis, and psoas major. In Pilates, we refer to the lumbopelvic region and its connection to the pelvic floor. Because back injury is such a common ailment, the pilates method teaches stabilization and strengthening of this region to protect against injury!

Pelvic Clock

  • Lying supine, knees bent. Arch your back, pressing the tailbone down. Now press your lower back down, tucking the pelvis and lifting the tailbone up. Massage the lumbar spine back and forth. Now come to stillness in the middle of these two articulations. Tip your hips to the left, flattening one side of your back into the floor and allowing the other side to tip up. Rock your hips from side-to-side. Now combine the two movements, tipping the back from 12, to 3, to 6, to 9 (the pelvic ‘clock’).
  • Circle the hips around and come to stillness in the exact middle fo this rotation; this is your ‘neutral pelvis

Marching + Leg Extension

  • Practice holding the hips completely still in your neutral position as you lift one knee into the chest at a time, as if you are marching
  • Find your neutral spine, practice reaching one leg long away from you at a time, again keeping the hips, pelvic floor, and lumbar spine perfectly still.
  • You will need to ENGAGE THE CORE in order to achieve this stillness in your hips! Drop the belly button to the spine, brace the belly (you might try the breathing exercise we did at the beginning).


  • From your neutral pelvic position, press all four corners of the feet evenly into the floor. Arms reach long at your side and pull the shoulder blades down the back. keeping that stillness throughout the pelvic floor, engage the quads, the glutes and the hamstring as you brace your core, LIFTING the hips up towards the sky. hold at the top, keeping the hips still. slowly lower the hips back down. Repeat.
  • 4. Scapular Stability + Mobility

Baseball, tennis, golf, even hockey, ping pong (table tennis), and more athletic ventures result in countless shoulder, rotator cuff, and elbow (tennis elbow) injuries. By strengthening the scapula (shoulder blades) and practicing scapular mobility, we can prevent these types of debilitating and painful injuries!

Scapula Push-up (practice from all fours, plank-position, or against a wall!)

  • From an all-fours position with hands stacked directly underneath shoulders, pull the belly button up and align the back of the neck with the spine. find your ‘neutral spine position. keeping the arms straight, drop your chest down towards the floor, keeping the neck lengthened, adducting the shoulder blades (squeezing them together). Puff up between the shoulder blades to lift the chest away from the floor (abducting the shoulder blades). Repeat.

Overhead Arm-reach

  • Lying supine, legs long in front of you or bent with feet flat on the floor. Make sure the spine is in neutral. One are at a time slowly reaches up towards the sky, and then continues back reaching long overhead behind you, staying parallel with the torso. As we reach the arm up and over, feel how your shoulder blades moves on the floor. As the arm continues overhead, work to keep the shoulder down. As soon as you feel your shoulder creeping up towards your ears, hold your arm still. this is the limit of your range of motion.

Angel Arms

  • From your supine position (legs either bent with feet on floor, or lengthened with body in one long line), open one arm at a time out to the side so it moves perpendicular to the torso. As you reach your arms out perspectively, feel the movement of your shoulder blade on the ground, and notice how one scapula squeezes in towards the other. As your arm come closer to shoulder-height, notice when your shoulder starts to creep up and try to pull the shoulder blade down as the arm extends out and up. repeat side to side.



❤ Cammy


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