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5 surprising exercises that will make you think, “That’s Pilates?”


Pilates moves
All Photos: Lisa Elaine Held for Well+Good
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Tired of teasers and 100s?

There are actually more than 600 exercises in Pilates, explains Sylvia Ostrowska, a BASI-trained instructor who recently opened her own small but super-sweet studio, Pilates by Sylvia, after building a loyal following of clients teaching at trusted spots around New York City.

Ostrowska’s approach to Pilates is contemporary and tough, and she modifies moves to keep challenging her clients as they progress. “People love that they come to my class and they don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says, since she mixes in moves from classical Pilates and other exercise modalities. (The ultra-modern Allegro 2 Reformers she uses help—they combine the reformer and tower into one machine, which leads to even more possibilities.)

Variety also increases intensity, Ostrowska explains—something she is often looking to do with the strong women who have been working out with her for years. “If it’s easy, it’s not Pilates,” she insists.

Ready to experience her brand of Pilates 2.0?

Below, Sylvia Ostrowska shares five moves you wouldn’t normally associate with Pilates that can easily be incorporated into the method (and—even better—done at home).
Get Started

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Creative Pilates moves_hamstring curl2Pilates moves

1. Hamstring curls

Reformer swap: Side of a bed, chair, or bench, plus small towels, paper plates, or sliders

How to: Sit with your hands grasping the bench or chair supporting you (as you would do to prepare for a tricep dip), with sliders, towels, or paper plates (really, anything slippery) under your feet to slide on. Lift your hips off the bench while supporting yourself with your arms. Keep your chest lifted without slouching. Inhale and extend your legs, sliding them away from you. Exhale and curl your legs under you until they reach a 90-degree position. Be sure to keep your upper body straight and have only the legs move.

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Pilates movesPilates moves

2. Bicep curls in chair pose

Reformer swap: Resistance band(s) or dumbbells

How to: Attach your resistance band to a pole, tree, or something very sturdy that will not move. Holding onto the bands with both hands, lift your heels and lower your pelvis into a sitting position. Extend your arms fully and curl, reaching a 90-degree angle with your elbows. Be sure the elbows are aligned with your shoulders. (If you’re using dumbbells, keep your heels on the ground.)

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Pilates movesPilates moves

3. Chest lift with leg open-and-close

Reformer swap: Resistance band(s) or dumbbells

How to: Attach your resistance band (or, if they’re not long enough, two of them) to a pole or something very sturdy that will not move. Holding on to the ends of the resistance band(s) with both hands, lift your chest up. Open your arms and legs simultaneously, keeping the tension in the bands. Close your arms and legs.

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Pilates movesPilates moves

4. Back and tricep trainer

Reformer swap: Resistance band(s)

How to: Attach your resistance band(s) to a pole or something very sturdy that will not move. Kneeling, with your knees hip-width apart, keep your abs engaged. Holding the bands in front, pull the bands down, until the arms are by your side. Then extend arms forward again.

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Pilates movesPilates moves

5. Sliding lunge

Reformer swap: Small towels, paper plates, sliders, or some other slippery surface

How to: Extend your arms in front of you with your shoulders back. Put one leg forward on the slippery surface and glide it forward until you get into a lunge, with your knee in a 90-degree angle over your ankle. Slide back into the original position.

Think Pilates is old-school? Find out why New York City’s Pilates gurus say the time-tested workout is here to stay. Or check out the cool, affordable Pilates brand that’s aiming to take over the US.