Below, Laura Wilson, founder of Pilates studio chain Natural Pilates, outlines a quickie upper-body workout that consists of eight moves performed for one minute each, no weights required. But don't be fooled: Just because it’s short doesn't mean it's easy. This 8-minute Pilates arm workout will give your shoulders and arm a good burn, and Wilson adds that it also gets your spine moving and works the lower body and abs as well.
In other words, you get a lot of bang for those few minutes. The key to maximizing your results? Aim for quality, not quantity. "Focus on your form versus how many reps you can squeeze in," Wilson says.
Keep scrolling for an 8-minute Pilates arm workout
Squats with arm raises
Pilates is all about multitasking by working various muscles simultaneously, Wilson says. So this combo is just the thing to get your body warmed up.
Begin standing with your legs hip-distance apart and your arms by your sides. Inhale and then sit your butt back and bend your knees like you’re lowering into a chair as you exhale, reaching your straight arms forward to shoulder height. Return to a standing position and lower your arms by your sides as you inhale. "In the squat, be sure to keep your spine neutral, not rounded or arched, [and] send your hips back," Wilson says. Your knees should stay behind your toes. Repeat for one minute.
Sumo squats with bicep curls
This is another multi-tasking move that works the legs and arms simultaneously. Stand with your legs shoulder-distance apart, toes pointed outward, and your arms extended out to your sides, slightly lower than your shoulders, with palms facing up. Inhale and then exhale as you squat and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle. Inhale as you return to the starting position. "Maintaining your elbows lifted will increase the intensity for the shoulders and triceps," Wilson says. Repeat for one minute.
Seated tricep dips
You'll need a sturdy chair for this move. Make sure it is large enough for your hands to fit comfortably by your hips as you do the tricep dips. Once your hands are in position, "slide your hips forward off the chair and begin doing triceps dips, inhaling as you bend your elbows, and exhaling as you press up," Wilson says. "The challenge here is maintaining good form. Try to keep your neck long and shoulders down by focusing on pressing into your hands as you straighten your arms.” Repeat for one minute and take quick breaks as needed throughout.
Knees off (or bear plank)
Your arms and quads will get some love with this move. Get down on all fours, keeping your shoulders stacked over your wrists and hips over your knees. Curl your toes under. Inhale and then exhale as you press into your hands and toes and lift your knees one inch off the floor. Hold the position for five to 20 seconds, then lower your knees to the ground. "The longer you hold the position, the fewer reps you'll get in a minute, but less is definitely more here," Wilson says.
This classic Pilates mat move helps strengthen the abs and supports the range of motion in the shoulder joint. Here's how to do it: "Begin lying on your back. Maintain your spine flat and bring both legs to tabletop position—90-degree bend at your hips and knees," Wilson says. "Now curl your head and shoulder off the mat and reach your hands toward your toes." As you inhale, reach your legs out and your arms overhead. Then, as you exhale, circle your arms out to the sides and towards your feet as you bring the legs back to the tabletop position.
"It is very important to maintain your spine flat for this exercise," Wilson notes. "If it feels like your lower back is arching off the mat, then reach your legs higher. The lower the legs go, the more their weight can pull on the spine."
You’ll feel this move work the entire back side of the body, including the back, shoulders, arms, glutes, and hamstrings. Lie down on your stomach. Reach your arms forward, keeping the arms and legs shoulder distance apart. Inhale, then exhale as you hover your arms, chest, and legs off the ground. "Continue inhaling and exhaling as you lift one arm and the opposite leg up an inch, then switch," Wilson says. "After the minute is up, lower your body back down to the mat, then press back into a child's pose to stretch out your spine."
Wilson adds that you can start doing this move slowly and then pick up speed as you go. Regardless of speed, she stresses the importance of engaging your abs (this helps protect your back) and keeping your arms and legs straight, so you feel the burn.
Side plank and twist
Begin in a side plank position with staggered legs. "The supporting arm should be directly under the shoulder as the other arm reaches toward the ceiling," Wilson says. Inhale, then exhale as you "rotate your torso toward the floor and reach your top arm under your waist—think 'thread the needle.'" Next, inhale as you rotate back to the starting position with your arms reaching toward the ceiling. Repeat for 30 seconds then switch sides.
The 8-minute Pilates arm workout concludes with the OG push-up but with a Pilates twist that focuses on form and breath. Get down on all fours. Arms should be shoulder-width apart. Tighten your core as you step your feet back into the push-up position. Wilson notes you can keep the feet together if you want to make things more challenging or keep them separated for more stability.
Before you start the push-up, Wilson recommends ensuring your body is in one long line, and your abs and glutes are engaged. "The abs and glutes are what stabilize the body during the movement," she says. "If we lose those connections, the exercise loses its integrity and becomes less beneficial and could be injurious."
Then inhale as you bend your elbows and press up as you exhale. The key to a great push-up, Wilson says, is to lower your chest as much as you can without losing your spinal position, more so than how many reps you can do during the minute. Once the minute is up, press back into the child's pose for some well-deserved rest and deep breaths.
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