Forget weights — this standing Pilates workout sculpts strong muscles in just 30 minutes

Woman in her living room performing a lunge on her yoga mat with arms extended overhead
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

You don’t need dumbbells, kettlebells or resistance bands to build full-body strength — just this 30-minute standing Pilates workout, which is also knee-friendly. 

Without equipment — although we recommend using one of the best yoga mats for support — you can Move with Nicole through a series of challenging knee-friendly Pilates exercises to strengthen muscles, improve posture and develop balance and coordination. And it only takes 30 minutes to complete, meaning you can slot this into your busy work routine with time to spare. 

The bodyweight workout strengthens glutes and ab muscles, but you’ll also target your back (especially your lower back), quads, and hamstrings and activate smaller, stabilizing muscles that support major muscle groups. If you’re recovering from injury or searching for a low-impact exercise regime — add this to your repertoire. 

Woman jumping against a blue background during standing workout left knee and right arm raised

(Image credit: Getty images)

In the name of fitness journalism, I also tested Nicole’s Pilates ab workout for abs and glutes a few months ago, and as I pumped and pulsed my way to a sore core and trembling glutes the following day, I tied down just why her workouts are so effective.

The answer is muscular endurance. This workout uses slow, controlled and precise Pilates moves by harnessing two techniques: high reps and time under tension (TUT). Your muscles work harder for longer, which means this standing Pilates workout helps maximize your muscle endurance-building capabilities (you can find 5 clever ways to build strength without lifting heavier weights here).  And you don't need to ramp up your heart rate to feel the benefits, either. 

Watch the Move With Nicole bodyweight Pilates ab workout 

You don’t need a Reformer bed or heavy weights to fatigue your muscles, just the resistance of your body weight. A knee-friendly Pilates workout without equipment can still deliver intensity through high reps, muscular exertion and little rest.

If the thought of a workout without weights doesn’t turn you on, I recommend adding a light pair of dumbbells or some of the best resistance bands for home workouts to add extra resistance, but I guarantee you won’t need it. Nicole keeps you moving throughout, using repetitive pulsing motions to fire up muscles you didn’t know you had. 

There are lunge variations included in the workout, but these are knee-pain friendly, although you could switch them out for squats if you prefer. As a caveat, exercises that target and strengthen the muscles around your knee joints are crucial for protecting your knees from injury and help improve balance and lower-body mobility. 

Regardless, you’ll engage plenty of midsection muscles, including the rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles), obliques (the muscles running down between your ribs and hips), and transverse abdominis (deeper core muscles). Various hip abduction exercises require lifting each leg to the side, activating your hip flexors, gluteus medius (outer glutes), and quad muscles. 

Nicole also includes her signature twists, holds, and crunches to fire up that familiar Pilates muscle burn and build a stronger core musculature without overloading your joints. 

If your goal is weight loss, you can find out how Pilates for weight loss works, but remember that consistent exercise is crucial for fat loss, not a standalone workout.  

Verdict 

If you enjoy low-impact Pilates classes or want to see how one could improve your current exercise regime, this one's for you. However, Nicole doesn’t count reps like a traditional resistance program, which could split opinions. 

If you’re on the fence, research has shown that Pilates has the potential to serve as a strength training program for injury rehabilitation or as strenuous exercise, making it suitable for beginners and advanced exercisers. 

Remember to always cool down, even after low-impact exercise. If you’re not consistent with stretching, these 6 stretches for beginners boost flexibility in your hamstrings, calves, and ankles, and this one move to reduce hip flexor pain will open your hips and improve your range of motion during lower body workouts. 

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.