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Pilates Mat Series: The Essential Three Exercises

It's a total-body workout routine you can do every day.

If you're crunched for time, this series of three essential exercises provides a full-body workout, targeting your abs, legs, and upper back. The accompanying video demonstrates the Pilates Mat Series—a quick, easy workout that will transform your body.

The first of these essential three exercises, called the Roll Up, targets the abdominal muscles. It's performed while lying on your back on an exercise mat, starting with your legs together and arms at your sides.


  1. Inhale, reaching your hands up to the ceiling.
  2. Exhale, as you roll your body all the way up, reaching for your toes and stretching your hamstrings. Keep your neck relaxed and heels pressed into the mat, drawing your ribs and belly in as you roll up.
  3. Inhale when you reach your toes and exhale as you roll your body back down to the mat.


Repeat several times, and then rest your hands at your sides.

The second essential exercise in the Pilates Mat Series is the One Leg Circle, which targets the thighs. Make sure that you have a neutral spine to start, which means there should be a little space between your lower back and the mat.


  1. Reach your right leg up to the ceiling, pulling your abdominal muscles in.
  2. Keeping your toes pointed toward the ceiling, move your raised leg in small circular motions across the body. Your abs should remain pulled in and your shoulders and hipbones should remain anchored to the mat.
  3. Reverse the circle and remember to point your toe and really stretch your leg toward the ceiling as you circle. Breathe naturally throughout.
  4. Hug your knee toward your chest to release the stretch and then extend your leg down to the mat.
  5. Repeat with your left leg.


From here, you're going to work your upper back muscles with the Breast Stroke, the final of the essential three exercises of the Pilates Mat Series. This exercise is performed lying on your stomach, with your feet about hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides.


  1. Slide your shoulders down your back and exhale to lift the upper body about two inches off the mat. As you lift, open through the collarbone and pinch your shoulders together slightly.
  2. Keep your glutes engaged and inhale as you lower back down to the mat.


Repeat several times and finish with a Shell Stretch to release tension in the back. If you only have time for a quick workout, these exercises will help you be on your way to a leaner Pilates body.

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