Pilates for beginners plan: firm up in just four weeks

Our Pilates for beginners plan will help you firm up and improve you posture in just two 30-minute sessions a week

Smiling woman holding a Pilates mat
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Our Pilates for beginners plan is ideal for anyone who's looking to firm up and improve posture to boot.

Other than a desire to achieve those goals, there's very little you need to get started - some comfortable workout clothes and a mat are the only requirements (take a look at our pick of the best yoga mats, which work well for Pilates sessions too).

But why start practicing Pilates in the first place? Well, if you've ever wondered how celebs like Elizabeth Hurley (56) and Gwyneth Paltrow (48) maintain a strong, lean look as they age, Pilates is the answer. And it's not just for women - famous male fans include Robert Downey Jr (56) and Tiger Woods (45).

It's suitable for all beginners, but is a particularly great option for those looking to keep exercising over 50. Why? Pilates not only firms and tautens muscles, but also boosts overall strength and flexibility.

And, because it’s especially great at working your deep abdominals (a group of muscles down the sides of your abdomen), it’s one of the best workouts for abs around (and particularly great if you're hoping to get a small waist). 

It also works to improve posture, helping you look taller and leaner. What's more, as the moves are slow and deliberate, it calms your mind and gives you a wellbeing boost.

Lynne Robinson (opens in new tab), founder of the world-renowned Body Control Pilates (opens in new tab) system, has designed a four-week plan based around eight simple Pilates moves. Discover how to do these below, and then put them into action with the Pilates plan further down the page.

Pilates for beginners: key moves to master

As mentioned above, the plan is based on a selection of core Pilates moves. These are listed below, along with instructions on how to do them. For most moves there's a 'basic' version and a 'boosted' version - you'll use the latter as the four-week program progresses in order to build you up slowly.

Relaxation Pose

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates relaxation pose

(Image credit: Future)
  • This is how you always begin your exercise. 
  • Lie on a mat on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart and parallel.
  • Check that your pelvis is level and your spine retains its natural curves. Arms should be resting at your sides.
  • Breathe wide into your ribcage.
  • Breathe out and gently engage your pelvic floor muscles, drawing up inside like an internal zip until you feel your lower abdomen hollow slightly.
  • Breathe in and release your ‘core zip’.

Boosted Relaxation Pose

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates boosted relaxation pose

(Image credit: Future)
  • Follow directions for the basic move, but breathe out and raise both your arms up above your head, without moving your spine. 
  • Maintain the distance between your ears and your shoulders. 
  • Breathe in to bring your arms back down to the starting position once more.

Cat Stretch

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates cat stretch

(Image credit: Future)
  • Go on all fours with your hands beneath your shoulders and knees beneath your hips.
  • Breathe in and out, rolling your pelvis underneath. Your lower back will gently round. 
  • Allow your upper back to also round, followed by your neck, and finally nod your head forwards.
  • Breathe in, then out again as you unravel your spine, sending your tailbone away from you.
  • Bring your pelvis back to neutral and return to starting position. Control your spine, vertebra by vertebra.

Boosted Cat Stretch

  • Start on all fours, then place your right hand in front of your left hand on the floor, so that you’re working at an oblique angle. 
  • Perform the basic move as above, then repeat the move on the other side. 

Roll Downs

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates roll down

(Image credit: Future)
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees bent. 
  • Breathe in, lengthen the back of your neck and nod head forwards. 
  • Breathe out and roll your spine down, then breathe in as you begin to roll your pelvis under you. 
  • Breathe out as you roll spine back up. 
  • Roll smoothly through each segment of the spine and keep weight balanced evenly through both feet

Boosted Roll Downs

  • When you’ve finished the basic move, roll down and return upright, float both arms up, out to the side and then above you.

Side Reach

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates side reach

(Image credit: Future)
  • Stand with feet hip-width apart. Breathe in and raise right arm over your head, being sure not to hunch your shoulder. 
  • Breathe out and lengthen through the crown of your head to reach the upper corner of room, laterally bending spine. Keep your pelvis centered. 
  • Breathe in then breathe out, lengthening through your head as you return to upright. 
  • Breathe in and lower arm. 
  • Switch sides and repeat.

Boosted Side Reach

  • Start in high-kneeling position – knees and feet hip-width apart – and perform the basic move. Switch sides and repeat.

Curl Ups

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates curl up

(Image credit: Future)
  • Start in the relaxation position, hands behind head. 
  • Breathe in and out, nodding your head down and curling your upper body away from
  • the mat. 
  • Breathe in and hold the curl, then breathe out to control the curl back down. 
  • Support your head, keep your spine level and move the spine bone by bone.

Boosted Curl Ups

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates boosted curl up

(Image credit: Future)
  • Follow directions for the basic move, but once curled up, breathe in and open one knee out to the side, without moving the pelvis.
  • Breathe out and return knee before repeating with other leg, then curl back down.

Spine Curls

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates spine curl

(Image credit: Future)
  • Start in the relaxation position.
  • Breathe in wide to your rib cage, then breathe out and tilt your pelvis back, curling first your tailbone, then peel each vertebra off the mat until you reach your shoulders.
  • Breathe in and then breathe out as, one by one, you return each vertebra to the floor. 
  • Keep both sides of your waist elongated and that your weight is evenly distributed  between both feet for good balance.

Boosted Spine Curl

Woman demonstrating how to do a Pilates boosted spine curl

(Image credit: Future)
  • Follow directions for basic move, but place your arms above your shoulders, palms facing away, reducing your base of support.

Pilates for beginners: four-week workout plan

Now that you've mastered the basic Pilates for beginners moves, it's time to put them into practice with our four-week plan! These half-hour workouts are designed to be done twice a week. 

Lynne recommends that you practice both versions of the relaxation position first, as they contain some of the movement skills you’ll need as the weeks progress. 

Week by week, the program will challenge you further by incorporating additional repetitions, reducing your base of support or testing your balance and co-ordination.

 By the end, you should notice a difference in your flexibility, strength and overall wellbeing. You’ll be hooked!

Week 1

  • Relaxation position
  • Spine curls x 8
  • Curl ups x 8
  • Cat stretch x 8
  • Side reach x 4
  • Roll downs x 8

Week 2

  • Relaxation position
  • Spine curls x 10
  • Curl ups x 10
  • Cat stretch x 10
  • Side reach x 6
  • Roll downs x 10

Week 3

  • Boosted relaxation pose x 8
  • Boosted spine curls x 6
  • Boosted curl ups x 6
  • Boosted cat stretch x 6
  • Boosted side reach x 4
  • Boosted roll downs x 8

Week 4

  • Boosted relaxation pose x 10
  • Boosted spine curls x 8
  • Boosted curl ups x 8
  • Boosted cat stretch x 8
  • Boosted side reach x 6
  • Boosted roll downs x 10
Natalia Lubomirski

Natalia is a health and fitness journalist who has written for the likes of Woman & Home and Marie Claire, and likes to practice what she preaches when it comes to staying fit and well. She loves the outdoors and would happily swap the treadmill for the trail at any opportunity. As such, in her free time you'll likely find her up a mountain somewhere. She has hiked eight of the major mountain ranges across four continents, including the Appalachians, the Smokies, the Sierra Nevadas (where she hiked to the top of Half Dome during her honeymoon) and the Atlas Mountains, as well hitting the summits of Snowdon and Pen-Y-Fan (Brecon Beacons), Table Mountain in South Africa and the Blue Mountains in Australia. She was also a fencer for 13 years, wielding an epée for Team GB during her teenage years. Having recently welcomed a baby, Natalia is currently getting back into her fitness routine, and has her sights set on completing a triathlon, something she and her husband started out on before their bundle of joy arrived.