Pilates has long been a go-to warm-up for ballet dancers, promising longer, stronger muscles and a more powerful, connected core. Experienced practitioners can even whiz through the beginning mat series—a group of 18 exercises—in just 10 to 12 minutes. But if you only have a few minutes to get warm, which exercises should you do? Many Pilates teachers recommend a compressed warm-up.
Stephanie West, an instructor and teacher trainer with Power Pilates in New York City, says that even with an abbreviated workout, you’re likely to notice improvements in your technique almost immediately, like being able to lift your arabesque higher while keeping the abs and ribs connected, or completing three pirouettes instead of two since the arms, legs and torso will have better coordination. West suggests a group of abdominal exercises, known as the “series of five,” with a built-in progression of stretch, stability, stamina and strength that will fire up the entire body.
Throughout the series, think of pulling the abs in and up, and avoid using the common ballet cue to “bring the navel to the spine,” which could cause you to compress your spine into the mat:
Start lying down on your back with both knees into your chest.
1. Single-leg stretch (8 sets; right and left make 1 set)
Lift head and place both hands on right shin. Extend left leg out at a 45-degree angle. Exhale and pull the right leg in farther. Inhale to change legs.
Remember: Empty all the air out of the lungs before switching legs.
2. Double-leg stretch (8 reps)
Lift head and hug both shins into chest. Inhale and extend the arms on a high diagonal behind you and the legs to a 45-degree angle. Exhale and hug shins back in.
Remember: Keep the head lifted the entire time.
3. Scissors (8 sets)
Lift head and straighten both legs toward ceiling. Place hands behind right thigh and reach left leg out at a 45-degree angle. Pull the right leg in twice and switch.
Remember: Resist the urge to stretch into a split. Instead, bring the upper body up to meet the leg.
4. Lower lift (8 reps)
Place both hands in a diamond shape under the hips for support. Lift head and reach both legs to 90 degrees. Lower legs to 45 degrees and then return.
Remember: Focus on curling the upper body higher even as the legs lower.
5. Crisscross (8 sets)
Place both hands behind the head and lift head up. Straighten right leg to 45-degree angle, keeping left knee bent into chest. Twist toward bent knee for 3 pulses. Come to center, bending both knees at a 90-degree angle. Then change legs and twist to other side.
Remember: Think of twisting your armpit to the opposite knee instead of the elbow to the knee.
Challenge yourself: Try the whole series as a bookend to your classes or rehearsals three times a week, says West. “It’s beneficial to do it before a long rehearsal to open up the lungs, to connect the rib cage and to scoop into the abdominals.” Repeating the series during your cooldown allows you to check back in with your body.