A Gentle Pilates Workout to Strengthen Your Core and Back

avatarKelly Collins

Use this easy Pilates workout to strengthen your core, reverse poor posture, and erase back pain.

Many of us work long hours sitting at a desk every day. Between poor computer ergonomics and forgetting to keep our core engaged and our shoulders back, it is no wonder that back pain was the most common health complaint in U.S. adults during a 2017 study. (1)

A strong core is essential to combating poor posture and preventing back pain. These muscles include the pelvic floor, diaphragm, abdominal muscles, some of the back muscles, and the gluteus maximus.

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Pilates is a great way to reverse the negative side effects of poor posture and back pain since almost all Pilates moves target the core. Most Pilates exercises can be modified for beginners, making them accessible even if you’re new to this form of exercise. These gentle moves will help strengthen your abdominal muscles, stretch and strengthen your back muscles, and improve overall awareness of your posture throughout your day.

Gentle Pilates Workout for Core and Back

The Hundred | 100 reps


Get your blood pumping, warm up your core, and strengthen your deep ab muscles and pelvic floor.

  1. Begin lying on your back. Lift your feet off the floor, keeping your shins parallel to the ground. Reach your arms down alongside your body with your palms facing down.
  2. Lift your head and shoulders up off the mat. Draw your navel in towards your spine to engage your abs. If this is uncomfortable, simply rest your head on the mat instead.
  3. Inhale and pump your arms up and down five times, then exhale as you pump your arms up and down five times. Repeat that 10 times for a total rep count of 100.

Rolling Like A Ball | 10 reps


Give yourself a feel-good back massage while strengthening the core.

  1. Begin seated on your mat. Lift your feet off the floor and tuck your knees into your chest, with your hands on your shins.
  2. Keep your feet together, but separate your knees hip-width distance apart. Tuck your head in between your knees.
  3. Engage your abs and pause, balancing on your tailbone. Then, inhale to roll down on your back until your shoulders reach the mat. Make sure not to roll onto your neck or head.
  4. Exhale to roll yourself back up to your tailbone, using your hands for balance if needed.
  5. Repeat for a total of 10 times.

Single Leg Stretch | 5 reps per side


Train the abdominals to support and stabilize the pelvis while the arms and legs are in motion.

  1. Lie on your back with your feet lifted, knees bent and shins parallel to the floor. Reach your arms down alongside your body. Engage your abs and take a few deep breaths.
  2. On an exhale, lift your shoulders up off the mat and extend your left leg, while bringing your right knee to your chest. Grasp your right ankle with your right hand and your right knee with your left hand.
  3. Inhale to switch your legs out, extending your right leg and curling your left knee into your chest. Place your left hand on your left ankle and your right hand on your left knee. Hold for your exhale.
  4. Repeat four more reps per side. Make sure to keep your feet moving forward and back rather than an up and down bicycling motion.

Double Leg Stretch | 10 reps


Strengthen the abs and stabilize the pelvis to protect the lower back.

  1. Lie on your back with your feet lifted, knees bent and shins parallel to the floor. Engage your abs and keep your lower back pressing into the ground.
  2. Inhale to stretch your arms above your head and straighten your legs out in front of you. Note: If this bothers your lower back, straighten your legs up towards the sky instead of out.
  3. Exhale as you circle your arms around to meet your legs. Repeat for a total of 10 reps.

Crisscross | 5 reps per side


Strengthen your obliques and deep core muscles.

  1. Lie on your back and interlace your fingers behind your head.
  2. Hug your knees into your chest while also lifting your shoulders off the ground.
  3. Take an inhale, then exhale to straighten your left leg straight out in front of you as you twist your torso to the right. Bring your left elbow toward your right knee and hold for a count of three.
  4. Inhale back to center, then exhale to switch sides.
  5. Repeat four more rotations on each side.

Shoulder Bridge | 10 reps per side


Prevent back pain by strengthening the lower back, pelvic floor, abdominals, and hamstrings while also creating stability in the pelvis.

  1. Lie on your back with your feet on the mat, hip-width distance apart.
  2. Reach your arms down alongside your body with your palms facing down. Engage your lower abs.
  3. Press down through your feet and arms to lift your hips up towards the sky.
  4. Extend one leg straight up towards the sky. If this feels challenging enough, stay here and hold for 10 breaths.
  5. For a more intense version, inhale and lower your straightened leg down until your knees are aligned, then exhale to lift it straight back up. Repeat for 10 reps, then switch legs.

Single Leg Circles | 10 reps per side


Gently strengthen the abs and hip flexors to create stability in the core.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Reach your arms down alongside your body and engage your abs. Bring your pelvis to a neutral position.
  2. Straighten your right leg up towards the sky.
  3. Circle your right leg around towards your left shoulder, then back to your right. Keep your abs engaged as you repeat for five reps. Then, circle your right leg in the opposite direction five times.
  4. Switch legs, circling five times clockwise and then five times in the other direction.

Saw | 5 reps per side


Strengthen the core while also releasing tightness in the lower back, shoulders, and hamstrings.

  1. Sit up on your mat with your legs extended out in front of you, mat-width distance apart.
  2. Reach your arms straight out the sides so your hands are level with your shoulders. Engage your abs.
  3. Twist your torso to the left, reaching your right hand to the outside of your left foot. Pulse three times.
  4. Roll back up in a twist position, then untwist at the top to return to the starting position.
  5. Switch sides. Continue alternating for five reps per side.


(Your Next Workout: 7 Core Exercises to Ease Back Pain)

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