The Value of 5 Basic Pilates Mat Exercises

The Value of 5 Basic Pilates Exercises

The above quote from Joe Pilates appears in The Eighth Avenue “Contrologist” by Evelyn S. Ringold, an article published in the New York Herald Tribune in 1964.

It's one of my favorites.

I have come to understand the myriad benefits of even the very first Pilates exercises. And I always assume Joe is referring to the first 5 Mat exercises (because I love them).

How nice would it be if everyone in the world could feel invigorated and positive? All of us at peace with ourselves and with the world around us.

The Value of 5 Basic Pilates Mat Exercises

In my very first Mat class at Excel Pilates in Washington, DC, we learned ‘the basic 5.'

The Basic 5:

The Value of 5 Basic Pilates Mat Exercises

  1. The Hundred
  2. The Roll Up
  3. Single Leg Circles
  4. Roll Like a Ball
  5. Spine Stretch

These are wonderfully effective when I've procrastinated my time away for a larger workout until dinner time. It looks like a workout is not going to happen and my gosh, I still need to fucking stretch out.

5 in less than 5

These are my 11th hour go-to exercises. Get a good workout in just a few moments. I usually finish the basic 5 in less than 5 minutes.

And I feel virtuous. You can really dig deep into these exercises and they can be thorough.

From one of my very first Pilates teachers, Kerry DeVivo of Excel Pilates Annapolis:

My first and passionate thought about the basic five is this. It is the template on which most everything in the Pilates method is built.  Each of these exercises serves as a building block to other more complex exercises and concepts. 

And within the “basic” nature of each exercise lies sophisticated concepts upon which advanced knowledge can be applied by the long term Pilates practitioner.

How amazing are these 5 exercises? Let me count the ways:

  1. They make a good goal for new clients to practice at home. These exercises will increase their strength, their memory and retention and they'll soon be on their way to figuring out what exactly you're asking of them in their lessons.
  2. It's a good way to begin working out on your own if that's not something you regularly do. Build your daily or every-other-daily Pilates habit little by little. After a few weeks of just the basic 5, you'll want to add a few extra exercises.
  3. They are extremely difficult to do perfectly. You'll be sweating if you apply yourself.

Use these practice videos to perfect your Basic 5. If the exercises are new to you use the more deliberately paced workout first. Then challenge yourself with the uptempo video.

Deliberate Pace:

Brisk Pace:

Got an extra minute?

If you've got an extra minute you can add 2 more exercises giving yourself a basic 7:

  1. Single Leg Pull

The Value of 5 Basic Pilates Mat Exercises

  1. Double Leg Pull

The Value of 5 Basic Pilates Mat Exercises

Start with 5 repetitions of these 2 exercises. You can even increase the reps to 8 or 10 to get an extra infusion of strength in your stomach.

Also included in this next video is the 3rd exercise in the order of the Pilates Mat exercises, the Roll Over.

If the Roll Over isn't an exercise you currently do, just leave it out and proceed to the next exercise, Single Leg Circles. If you do it and you've got a moment to spare then by all means have at it!

How many minutes does it take to feel awesome?

Get your Basic 5 on and report back!

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  1. LOVE this Andrea!! I so look forward to your posts!!

    • Thanks Marie – thank you so much for reading 🙂 Have great week! I know I will have one of those “at least I did the Basic 5” kind of weeks – LOL

  2. I’ve been wanting to start doing pilates, so I really appreciate these quick exercises. I also really love the videos you’ve put in. I can’t wait to perfect these five exercises, thank you for this help!

    • Hi Petunia –
      It’s so good to hear that the 5 exercises are of help to you. They are wonderful to do everyday to build strength. They will serve you well along your Pilates path. Thanks so much for reading and for watching the videos. Keep up the good work 🙂

  3. Hi Andrea,

    I really find this post very helpful and so easy to follow. I was reading your recent post on The Value of 10 Fundamental Pilates Reformer Exercises and I found this link too which is on mat exercises.
    I’ve been researching on Pilates and I’ve been wanting to try it out! And voilà! this post showed me exactly how to start.
    Thanks a lot! Can’t wait to try this with my friends.


    • Justine,

      I am so delighted to help you try Pilates. Yes, the Mat exercises are a great introduction – read that as “gateway drug” – to the full Pilates method. I wish you luck and I’m happy to answer any questions you have – you know where to find me LOL 🙂 Cheers to you!

      • Hi Andrea,

        Thank you and i’ll look forward to reading more of your posts and really, this is a gateway drug for me in achieving the full Pilates method.
        Keep up the awesome job 🙂


        • Will do Justine – Thank you so much 🙂 I cannot express the depth of my love for the Pilates Method – it’s just amazing!

          • Hey Andrea,

            Reporting back 🙂 I’ve been trying the Basic 5 and all five are great exercise, i particularly like The Roll Up and The Hundred, its usually better than my usual exercise routine of just focusing on core muscles.
            I just found recently that i have a slight abnormal curvature on my spine though my doctor didn’t stress out more on it, the idea of it progressing into a more visible one is scary!
            I’m going to make this as my daily routine from now on 🙂


          • Good job Justine!
            Regarding your back, for now as you do your exercises, just notice how your body feels on each side of your center…you may find that the muscles are stronger on one side than the other, or perhaps easier to pinpoint… maybe…but just pay attention and see what the exercises reveal to you.
            Please know that I am thrilled to hear that you like the Roll Up and the Hundred best – OMG they are so good!
            Cheers to you and thanks for reporting back 🙂

  4. Why is there a difference between these five and the series of five? Is one better than the other?
    Thanks for your videos.

    Feeling inspired in the morning,


    • Hi Karen,

      Thanks so much for reading and for connecting here to share your thoughts and questions. Just to clarify, you’re talking about the series of 5 Pilates exercises done on the Mat: single leg pull(stretch), double leg pull(stretch), single straight leg stretch, double straight leg stretch and criss cross. This is an infamous series, you are correct. And perhaps all the ab exercises you’ll ever need. They never disappoint.

      The exercises in this post are also sometimes referred to as the ‘Basic 5’ as they are the most accessible exercises in the Pilates Mat work for beginning students. The Series of 5 on the other hand are more challenging exercises. Single Leg Pull and Double Leg Pull are considered a basic foundational exercise too, but the other 3 require more strength and coordination. So there are also these basic 5 in addition to that famous series of 5. Tidy that they are both 5 🙂 And awesome that you are feeling inspired!! Cheers to you – xox

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