As Pilates grows more popular, those of us without classical Pilates apparatuses like a reformer or Cadillac at home (and by that we mean, most of us) might be on the hunt for other ways to level-up or modify our mat work. Enter: The wall.
Yep, even just the four walls of any room can be a major tool in your Pilates practice. Pilates instructor Chloe de Winter calls the wall "one very special prop" because doing the right moves with the assistance of a wall can help your body "mobilize and move through the spine but also strengthen and stretch" in a way you might not be able to without that added piece of resistance.
But the wall can be a bit of a blank canvas. Where to start your wall Pilates journey? De Winter has put together a 10-minute wall Pilates routine for Well+Good's Trainer of the Month club. It's meant to be a full-body workout that also delivers a great stretch for muscles tight from looking at screens or staying in one position for too long. For example, a series of wall-assisted bridges is going to "give you nice stretch in the back of the legs but also strengthen through the back muscles and strengthen through the hamstrings," de Winter says.
You can follow along in the video above, or move through the exercises on your own by following the step-by-step instructions below.
A 10-minute wall Pilates workout
1. Wall-assisted bridges (40 seconds)
- Lay on your back, and place your feet on the wall, with your knees over your hips, so that your knees are bent and your calves are just about parallel to the floor, with your feet slightly higher than your knees.
- Press into the wall with your feet and lift your hips up into a bridge position.
- Drop the hips back down.
2. Wall marches with straight legs (40 seconds)
- From a wall-assisted bridge, walk your feet up the wall until your knees are straight, tucking your tailbone under.
- Lift the left leg off the wall and sweep it up towards your head.
- Return the left leg to the wall, then repeat with the right leg.
- Continue to alternate.
3. Wall squat with arm lifts (1 minute)
- Standing straight and upright, press your back into the wall.
- Walk your feet out in front of you.
- Slide your back down the wall so you come into a wall squat with your knees bent and your ankles under your knees.
- Think about digging your heels down and pushing the floor away with your feet, so that your leg muscles fire.
- Starting with your straight arms against the wall with your palms facing the wall, lift them out in front of you and up overhead, then reverse, and repeat.
4. Wall squat with heel raises (1 minute)
- From a wall squat, lift your left heel and then lower it back to the floor.
- Repeat on the right side.
- Continue to alternate.
5. Wall squat with cactus arms (1 minute)
- Come into a wall squat.
- Sweep your arms in front of you and bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle, with your palms facing each other.
- With bent elbows, move the arms back so that your forearms and outer hands tap the wall.
- Bring the arms back in and repeat.
6. Wall lunge pulses (30 seconds per side)
- Stand upright with your back facing the wall.
- Take a big step forward with your left leg.
- Shift your weight to your left leg.
- As you bend the left leg, lift a bent right leg up behind you toward the wall, and place the right foot on the wall, about in line with your hips. Place your hands on your hips.
- Pulse the left leg, bending a little deeper, and then returning to the starting bend.
- Repeat on the other side.
7. Pec stretch (30 seconds per side)
- Stand upright facing the wall.
- Lift your right arm to about shoulder height, bending your elbow, and press your right hand into the wall.
- While pressing with your right hand, twist your body to the left so that you feel a stretch in the pec and shoulders.
- Repeat on the other side.
5 more super-effective wall Pilates moves
Looking for more wall Pilates fun? Pilates instructor Jennifer Kreichman also shared five of the most effective exercises you can do at home using nothing but a wall. “Each is born from a classical Pilates foundation, with a focus on strengthening the abdominals, and creating a sense of overall body coordination,” Kreichman says.
1. The hundred
You’ll be hard pressed to find any kind of Pilates workout that doesn’t include the hundred. But it can be a bit intense. For those just starting out on their strength journey, using the support of the wall may be a great first step. Below are three increasingly difficult versions of the exercise.
Feet on the ground variation
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. They should be hip bone–width apart and the tips of your toes should touch the wall. This will keep your feet in the same line.
- Elevate your arms to a 45-degree angle, in line with your thighs. Then lift your neck and shoulders off the mat, contracting your upper abdominals.
- Pump your arms as you inhale for five counts and exhale for five counts. Repeat until you reach a total of 100 pumping counts.
Level up: Legs at table top variation
Instead of keeping your feet on the ground, lift your legs into the air and set your feet onto the wall in a table-top position: Your shins should be parallel to the floor and your thighs should be perpendicular to it while your feet are flexed and flat against the wall.
“Because the legs are now elevated it will require a greater degree of core strength,” says Kreichman. “The wall will once again assist in establishing the alignment of the feet, knees and hips.”
Level up: Legs extended at a 45-degree angle
This time, extend your legs at a 45-degree angle so just the tips of your toes touch the wall.
“Touching the wall will give you a little bit of support for your legs as you work your way through the exercise,” says Kreichman. “As a goal, strive to raise your shoulders to the tips of your shoulder blades, rather than lifting your head a couple centimeters off the ground.”
2. Shoulder bridge
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your feet should be hip-width apart and the tips of your toes should touch the wall. Imagine pulling the abdominals inward and upward with your back resting on the mat.
- Engage your glutes, and curl your hips under to lift them up into the air for four counts. As you press into your feet, hold for four counts before rolling down for four counts, and resting for four counts.
“Depending on your level of strength, the exercise should be repeated anywhere between four and 10 times,” says Kreichman.
Level up: Feet on the wall
“This is likely the first thing you will see when Googling ‘Pilates wall workout,’” says Kreichman. It’s the same action as the standard shoulder bridge, but with your feet flat against the wall in tabletop as you raise and lower your hips.
“Approach this version with a level of consciousness that engages your abdominals, glutes, and hamstrings to support the spine. This should be pretty hard.”
3. Arms overhead
“This is a great chest, shoulder, and upper back strength/mobility exercise,” says Kreichman. “It’s especially helpful for people who are hunched over their work all day.”
- Face away from the wall, stand with your feet about a foot away, and let your back, hips, and shoulders lean against it.
- Lift your arms over your head with your elbows bent, pressing back against the wall while your fingertips touch and create the shape of a diamond. “For some people, even just that motion is really difficult,” says Kreichman.
- Push your arms upward, straightening them as much as you can while maintaining contact between your elbows and the wall, and keeping your fingertips together. Repeat six to 10 times.
4. Wall squats
- Just like the last exercise, stand with your feet out about a foot away from the wall, facing out, while your back, hips, and shoulders lean against it. Your arms should be at your sides with the palms of your hands facing the wall.
- Bend your knees and slide down the wall. The goal is to get your thighs parallel to the floor. As you do this, your arms should lift forward until they are also parallel to the floor at shoulder height.
- Straighten your legs back to your starting position. As you do this, your arms should once again push back down to your sides to touch the wall. “Rhythmically, you should go down for four counts, hold for four counts, and come up for four counts,” says Kreichman. Repeat that six to 10 times. “You should not hold it until you are fatigued. That is not the goal of Pilates. This exercise will work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, inner thighs, hip flexors, core, back and shoulders. It is holistic.”
5. Wall stretch
- Stand with your feet extended out about a foot-and-a-half away from the wall this time, facing out, while your back, hips, and shoulders lean against it.
- Begin to fold forward by gently lowering your head, and peeling your shoulders off the wall one vertebrae at a time. Continue rolling forward until just the back of your hips are against the wall.
- In this folded position, gently make five circles with your arms moving away from your center. Repeat this motion five more times in the opposite direction. Then rise back up, following the same pathway and repeat two to four times. Keep your abdominals pulled in and up as always. “Because this exercise is a stretch, there should be no real tension anywhere,” says Kreichman. “You just want to let the shoulders hang, and press that low back against the wall.”
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