Morning Pilates: Benefits Plus a Workout


If you’re the type of person who wakes up, puts on their sneakers, and heads to a HIIT workout class, keep doing your thing. But if you prefer to go from lying in your bed to lying on your mat, morning Pilates might be the best way to start your day. Just ask Brian Spencer, a Pilates instructor at East River Pilates, who created a flow for those of us who don’t exactly rise and shine.

“This is perfect if you’re more like me and need a little moment to wake up slowly and lie down a bit,” he says in his easygoing morning Pilates workout that’s part of this month’s Well+Good Trainer of the Month Club. “It should feel like you’re still in bed, getting that nice good morning stretch.”

Throughout the 24-minute workout, you can get away with toning your muscles without going the extra mile. But if you want to make the exercises more challenging as your body wakes up, there are options all throughout the workout that allow you to do exactly that. “No matter what, at the end, you’ll be ready for the day,” he says.

The benefits of morning Pilates

Getting to start your day lying down isn’t the only benefit of morning Pilates. Working out first thing in the morning also increases blood flow to your brain and body, not only helping you wake up but also giving you a boost of energy to kick-start your day.

The benefits of morning workouts also carry into the afternoon and night. A small 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found exercising in the a.m. improves attention and decision-making throughout the day, meaning you’ll be on your A-game at work. You’ll also sleep better at night, as early workouts help regulate your body’s internal clock, promoting a healthier sleep-wake cycle.

What’s really nice about morning Pilates in particular is that the gentle breathing and slow and controlled exercises you’re doing throughout the workout activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows you to start your day in a calm headspace—something a more intense workout, like HIIT or cycling, may not do.

Prefer lying down during your workouts? This morning Pilates flow wakes your body up slowly and gently, letting you ease into your day:

What to expect during this morning Pilates workout

By the end of Spencer’s workout, you’ll have targeted every muscle in your body… without even fully realizing it.

Hip raises

The workout starts with the booty, where you’ll complete a round of hip raises (aka Pilates bridges) that have additional add-ons like pulses if you’re in the mood (or, let’s be honest, awake enough) to make things more challenging. If your body still needs time to wake up, don’t push it. In fact, in that case, Spencer recommends easing in even more slowly. “Modify your range,” he says. “Maybe you don’t go as high into the bridge as I’m going.”

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and arms by your sides.
  2. Slowly tuck your pelvis and move your hips toward the ceiling into a bridge.
  3. Melt your spine back down to the mat.
  4. Repeat four more times.

Want an extra challenge? Add a round of hip pulses at the top of the bridge.

Forward curls with twists

Next up, the abdominals. An aspect of morning Pilates that Spencer loves is core work. “I love abdominal work in the morning. It sets your breath off to such a good start,” Spencer says. “A lot of times, you’ll feel it—you’ll be like ‘Oh my gosh, I can breathe so much better after this.’”

You’ll go through series of core exercises—including some forward curls with twists that target the obliques. If you prefer to keep things more low-key, you can stick with forward curls sans twists (either with your legs bent or raised into a tabletop position).

  1. Start lying on your back.
  2. Place your hands behind your head and raise your shoulder blades off the mat.
  3. Bring your legs into a tabletop position.
  4. As you curl up, twist to the right, then lower back down.
  5. Curl up and twist to the left, then lower back down.
  6. Repeat four more times.

Want an extra challenge? As you twist, extend the opposite leg instead of keeping it in tabletop.

Moving espresso

After some stretching—aka exactly what your body is likely craving first-thing in the a.m.—Spencer goes into the final exercise, a little something he likes to call a “moving espresso.” Basically, if you’re not awake yet, you’re about to be: “This is where you get ready for your day,” he says.

  1. Start in a high plank position with your hands directly under your shoulders and your body in a straight line from your head to your toes.
  2. Sit the hips back like you’re in a child’s pose, only this time your knees will be hovering above the floor.
  3. Push forward as you return to your plank.
  4. Repeat 10 times, slightly increasing your speed as you get more comfortable with the movement.

And just like that, you’ve officially crossed your daily workout off your list. With an uplifting Pilates flow under your belt—and a “moving espresso” caffeinating you better than any coffee can—it’s safe to say you’ll be feeling energized for hours to come.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Wheeler, Michael J, et al. “Distinct effects of acute exercise and breaks in sitting on working memory and executive function in older adults: A three-arm, randomised cross-over trial to evaluate the effects of exercise with and without breaks in sitting on cognition.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 54, no. 13, 29 Apr. 2019, pp. 776–781,


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