When you’re working out at home, you often have to be a little… creative. Don’t have a barre? Grab the back of a chair. Don’t have light dumbbells? Soup cans will do.
As Pilates grows more and 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.
Here, New York-based Pilates instructor Jennifer Kreichman shares 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,” she 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 modification
Step 1: 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, which is beneficial for alignment as the toes establish the symmetry of your knees and hips.
Step 2: From this position, 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.
Step 3: Pump your arms as you inhale for five counts and exhale for five counts. Repeat this motion 10 times until you reach a total of 100 pumping counts.
Level up: Legs at table top modification
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. It provides you with feedback for how to do the step correctly, despite not having a teacher in the room.”
Level up: legs extended at a 45-degree angle
This time, extend your legs at a 45-degree angle so 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
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: 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.”
Step 1: Face away from the wall, stand with your feet about a foot away, and let your back, hips, and shoulders lean against it.
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: 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
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: 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.
Step 3: 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
Step 1: 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.
Step 2: Begin to fold forward by gently lowering your head, and peeling your shoulders off the wall one vertebrate at a time. Continue rolling forward until just the back of your hips are against the wall.
Step 3: 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.”