It’s only appropriate to start this weekly series with the first exercise in the traditional mat sequence: the Hundred. This exercise is focused on breathing and prepares the body for the exercises that follow. While this is considered a warm-up exercise for the mat sequence, for beginners this can be a challenging exercise in itself.

This is the full expression — aka the most challenging — of the position, with legs at 45-degrees and the head off the mat. The spine should stay neutral with the navel pulling into the spine and not arching off the floor. If you can’t maintain the correct alignment, try another variation.

It’s good to start with the easiest variation and move to harder ones as you become stronger, as opposed to starting with the hardest variation.

Table top leg position, head raised.

The starting variation for the Hundred would be with knees bent and feet on the mat, with or without the head lifted. Next would be holding the legs in table top, where your knees are directly above your hips and your shins parallel to the floor. Then raising the legs to 90-degrees, feet pointed toward the ceiling, with or without the head lifted.

The Hundred

  • Regardless of the variation you’ll be using, begin on your back with your knees pulled in to your chest, hands around the shins. Inhale deeply and as you exhale, sink your torso into the mat, feeling like a weight is pressing you down.
  • If you’re lifting your head, curl up and gaze at the navel. Make sure you’re lifting from your upper back and not your neck.
  • Stretch your arms long by your sides, hands off the mat at about your hips and reaching forward as if your fingers could touch the other side of the room.
  • If needed, place your feet down on the mat. Otherwise, either keep the legs in table top, extend to the ceiling or extend out to 45°. Legs should be slightly turned out in pilates stance, toes pointed, thighs squeezing together.
  • Begin pumping your arms straight up and down as if you were slapping water. This should be a vigorous action — remember, you’re warming up!
  • Inhale for five counts and exhale for five counts. Keep reaching long with the arms, keep the torso lifted and keep pumping!
  • Repeat the inhale/exhale pattern for 10 cycles for a total of 100 breaths!

Tracy Green is a certified Pilates instructor. Please consult with your doctor before attempting any new exercise routines. No Pilates pose should cause pain or tension in your neck, back or any other area. If you experience any pain, stop the exercise immediately and either skip that exercise or modify with an easier variation.