Train your core with a Pilates Basics for Beginners video

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From the outside, mat Pilates may look a lot like lying down or confusing limb movements. What is all that lifting, lowering, and fluttering supposed to do?

Practitioners know that most Pilates exercises, big or small, work your muscles in non-obvious ways. That’s because coordinating your breath with movement is an integral part of the workout, challenging your core—and other muscle groups—with each inhale and exhale.

“We’re awakening the deep core with that exhalation and that inhale,” explains Pilates instructor Brian Spencer of East River Pilates.

In this new 25-minute video, Spencer walks us through a well-rounded Pilates workout designed for beginners and more experienced practitioners alike. He begins with the foundation of mat Pilates: the ability to find a neutral pelvis and thus engage your core. But what the heck does that actually mean?

“When we find our neutral pelvis, it means that the pelvic bones and tailbone are stacked with little space under your lower back,” says Spencer. Helpfully, he adds that your pubic bone is located a few fingers below your belly button.

Once you’ve got a feel for your basic core position, if you find the main steps a bit confusing, Spencer shares some simple variations that can be helpful starting points.

For example, to work up to the top of the table, you might start with a heel glide. It involves lying on your back with a neutral pelvis. Then, you lift your toes, which engages the hamstrings, and you pull your legs in and take them back. It mimics the leg lift and lower motion in the table top position without the extra weight holding your feet off the floor.

“I love a good heel guide,” Spencer says. “It’s a very effective exercise for building breathing and abdominal coordination.”

Spencer walks us through similar ways to work classic Pilates moves like roll ups and roll downs, forearm and side planks, and more. But really, once you master the neutral pelvis, the world of mat Pilates is your oyster.

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