i amIt’s arm day, but your schedule is packed with to-dos, and you’re wondering how you can fit exercise into an already full schedule. The solution? An 8-minute Pilates arm workout.
Below, Laura Wilson, founder of Pilates studio chain Natural Pilates, outlines a quick upper-body workout that consists of eight moves performed for one minute each, no weights required. But don’t be fooled: just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s easy. This 8-minute Pilates arm workout will give your shoulders and arms a good burn, and Wilson adds that it mobilizes your spine and also works the lower body and abs.
In other words, you get a lot of bang for those few minutes. What to maximize your results? Focus on quality, not quantity. “Focus on your form versus how many reps you can do,” says Wilson.
Keep scrolling for an 8-minute Pilates arm workout
Squats with arms raised
Pilates is about multitasking by working different muscles at once, Wilson says. So this combo is the thing to warm up your body.
Begin standing with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Inhale and then sit your butt back and bend your knees as you lower into the chair as you exhale, bringing your straight arms forward to shoulder height. Return to a standing position and lower your arms to your sides as you inhale. “In the squat, remember to keep your spine neutral, not rounded or arched, [and] Send your hips back,” says Wilson. Your knees should be behind your toes. Repeat for one minute.
Sumo squat with bicep curl
This is another multi-tasking move that works the legs and arms simultaneously. Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart, toes pointing outward, and your arms extended by your sides, slightly lower than your shoulders, palms facing the face. Inhale and then exhale as you squat and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle. Exhale as you return to the starting position. “Keeping your elbows high will increase the intensity of the shoulders and triceps,” says Wilson. Repeat for one minute.
Seated tricep dips
You will need a sturdy chair for this step. Make sure your hands are big enough to comfortably fit your hips when you do tricep dips. Once your hands are in position, “slide your hips forward off the chair and begin to dip the triceps, inhaling as you bend your elbows and exhaling as you press,” says Wilson. “The challenge here is to maintain good form. Try to keep your neck tall and shoulders down by focusing on pressing into your hands as you straighten your arms.” Repeat for one minute and take quick breaks as needed.
Knee off (or bear plank)
Your arms and quads will get some love with this move. Get down on all fours, keeping your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your knees over your hips. Curl under your toes. Inhale and then exhale as you press into your hands and toes and lift your knees an inch off the floor. Hold the position for five to 20 seconds, then lower your knees to the ground. “The longer you hold the position, the fewer reps you’ll get in a minute, but definitely lower here,” says Wilson.
This classic Pilates mat move helps strengthen the abs and supports range of motion in the shoulder joint. Here’s how to do it: “Start lying on your back. Keep your spine flat and bring both legs into a tabletop position—a 90-degree bend in your hips and knees,” says Wilson. “Now curl your head and shoulders off the mat and reach your hands toward your toes.” As you inhale, reach your legs and your arms overhead. Then, as you exhale, circle your arms out to the sides and toward your feet as you bring the legs back to the tabletop position.
“It’s very important to keep your spine straight for this exercise,” notes Wilson. “If it feels like your lower back is arching off the mat, reach your legs higher. The lower the legs go, the more their weight can pull on the spine.”
You’ll feel this move works the entire back of the body, including the back, shoulders, arms, glutes, and hamstrings. Lie on your stomach. Reach your arms forward with hands and feet shoulder distance apart. Inhale, then exhale as you rotate your arms, chest and legs off the ground. “Continue inhaling and exhaling as you lift one arm and the opposite leg up an inch, then switch,” says Wilson. “After the minute is up, lower your body back down to the mat, then press back into a child’s pose to stretch your spine.”
Wilson adds that you can start doing this move slowly and then increase the speed as you go. Regardless of speed, he emphasizes the importance of engaging your abs (which helps protect your back) and keeping your arms and legs straight, so you feel the burn.
Side planks and twists
Start in side plank position with legs bent. “The supporting arm should be directly under the shoulder as the other arm reaches toward the ceiling,” says Wilson. Inhale, then exhale as you “rotate your torso toward the floor and reach your upper arms below your waist—think ‘thread the needle.'” Then, exhale as you return to the starting position, reaching your arms toward the ceiling. Repeat for 30 seconds then switch sides.
The 8-minute Pilates arm workout ends with the OG push-up but with a Pilates twist that focuses on form and breath. Get down on all fours. Arms should be shoulder-width apart. Tighten your core as your legs return to the push-up position. Wilson notes that you can keep the legs together if you want to make things more challenging or keep them apart for more stability.
Before you start a push-up, Wilson recommends making sure your body is in a long line and your abs and glutes are engaged. “Abs and glutes are what stabilize the body during movement,” she says. “If we lose those connections, the practice loses its integrity and becomes less beneficial and can be harmful.”
Then inhale as you bend your elbows and press as you exhale. The key to a great push-up, Wilson says, is to lower your chest as much as possible without losing the position of your spine, rather than the number of repetitions you can do per minute. When the minute is up, press back into child’s pose for some well-deserved rest and deep breathing.