A Pilates instructor recommends doing these four stretches if you have a stiff back and hips at the end of the day

Give your body and mind a boost with slow, controlled movement

Woman doing Pilates workout at home
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve got a sore back, stiff hips and a mind that’s racing, some soothing Pilates could be just what you need. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered with this routine from Gemma Folkard, the founder of Shape Pilates

There are only four moves and you don’t need any equipment to do it, so you can practice it at home, at the gym, or wherever is convenient. 

For more gentle movement ideas, have a read through this piece on yoga stretches for beginners, or try these hip stretches to fix problems caused by too much sitting

Shape Pilates founder Gemma Folkard
Gemma Folkard

Gemma Folkard is a certified Pilates instructor and founder of Shape Pilates, an online platform with more than 200 on-demand strength and Pilates classes.

Four-move Pilates routine

1. Mermaid side stretch and rotations

Sit on the ground with your right leg straight out in front of you and your left leg out to one side. Bend your knees so they form a rough right angle, with your right shin lying horizontally to your torso and your left shin extending behind you. 

Start to gently rock back and forth. As you do, allow your hips to sink down into the mat while maintaining a lengthened spine. Bend sideways over to your right side, planting your right hand on the floor for support and reaching your left hand over your head. Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears while doing this. 

Take your left hand down to the mat, level with your right hand and shoulder-width apart, causing your trunk to twist. Push your chest forward to extend your spine then pull it backwards to flex your spine (similar to a vertical version of the cat-cow stretch). 

Perform this spine movement six to eight times then repeat this sequence on the other side of your body. 

2. Shoulder bridge

Lie on your back with your feet planted on the ground, your knees pointed upwards and your arms above your head, resting on the ground. Your neck should be long and your chest should be open. 

Take a deep breath and feel the back of your body expand. As you exhale, slowly tuck your tailbone under to roll your hips up and off the mat. Push through your heels and slowly lift the spine off the mat, bone by bone, until you reach the bottom of your shoulder blades. At this point your torso and thighs should form a long, diagonal line with the ribs just lower than the hips.

Slowly reverse this movement to lower your spine back to the mat. Repeat this five to eight times, focusing on your breath throughout the movement.

3. One leg circles

Lie flat on your back, place your arms by your sides with your palms down and keep your chin up. 

Raise your right knee so it’s vertical and relax your calf and foot so they’re floppy. Slowly circle your thigh bone as if you’re drawing circles on the ceiling with your right knee. Keep the other leg still and parallel—the aim is to isolate the right hip and massage the joint. 

Draw four clockwise circles, four anticlockwise circles. Switch legs and repeat. 

4. Roll down

Stand upright with soft knees and your feet hip-width apart and parallel. Take a moment to feel the weight through your feet and allow your shoulders to relax. Extend your arms in front of you so they’re at shoulder height and parallel with the floor. Keeping your arms straight and away from your body, dive up and over and forwards until they reach the ground.

"This is a spine stretch rather than a hamstring stretch, so soften the knees and try not to hinge from the hips. Instead round the spine and keep the biceps in line with the ears," says Folkard.

Reverse this movement to return to the starting position, then repeat three to six times. On the final one allow yourself to hang, grabbing onto your elbows, swinging side to side, nodding the head and decompressing the spine. 

Need some new equipment for your home workouts? Our guide to the best yoga mats can help

Harry Bullmore
Fitness Writer

Harry Bullmore is a Fitness Writer for Fit&Well and its sister site Coach, covering accessible home workouts, strength training session, and yoga routines. He joined the team from Hearst, where he reviewed products for Men's Health, Women's Health, and Runner's World. He is passionate about the physical and mental benefits of exercise, and splits his time between weightlifting, CrossFit, and gymnastics, which he does to build strength, boost his wellbeing, and have fun.

Harry is a NCTJ-qualified journalist, and has written for Vice, Learning Disability Today, and The Argus, where he was a crime, politics, and sports reporter for several UK regional and national newspapers.