Use this at-home Pilates workout with weights to strengthen your entire body

a photo of instructor Isa Welly teaching a Pilates clasa
(Image credit: YouTube/IsaWelly)

There’s nothing I love more than a good Pilates workout, but when working from home, it’s not always easy to make it to my favorite reformer Pilates studio. I’m always on the hunt for a challenging at-home workout that’ll sculpt my core, so when I found a 30-minute Pilates workout with weights by personal trainer Isa Welly, I grabbed a set of dumbbells and my exercise mat, and gave the workout a go. Read on to find out what happened. 

I immediately felt the gears shift with this workout — it was tough from the get-go and really challenged my core strength in a way my normal bodyweight Pilates workouts didn’t. Of course, Pilates isn’t just about blasting your core —  it’s a low-impact form of exercise that works on improving your strength, posture, and structural alignment. One study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found that people who did one hour of Pilates twice a week for 12 weeks reported significant increases in abdominal endurance, upper-body strength, and hamstring flexibility. 

Looking for more Pilates inspiration? Here are 8 of the best Pilates exercises that target your core for the ultimate burn, plus everything you need to know about Pilates for weight loss

What is the 30-minute Pilates with weights workout? 

The 30-minute workout uses a set of light dumbbells to add intensity to traditional Pilates exercises — think weighted sit-ups and static holds. While it might not feel too intense at the time, this one is bound to leave your core shaking afterward. 

Not sure what to expect? Here are a few of the exercises covered in the workout: 

Renegade rows with donkey-kick hold: For this exercise, you start in a tabletop position, with your hands stacked underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. From here, hold a dumbbell in one hand, and raise the opposite leg, as if you’re about to do donkey kicks, with a bend in the knee and your foot flexed to the ceiling. Using your core to stabilize your body, complete a renegade row. 

Weighted sit-ups: For this exercise, hold a dumbbell in each hand, and engage your abs and lift your head, neck, and torso up off the floor. Raise the dumbbells above your head and straighten your arms, before reversing the exercise so you are back to your starting position. Here’s more on how to do a sit-up

Glute bridges: In the workout, Isa uses glute bridges as a form of active recovery. To do a glute bridge, you’ll need to start by lying on your back on an exercise mat, with your feet pressed into the floor about hip-width apart. Engage your core (think about sucking your belly button into your spine) and squeeze your glutes together as you raise your hips and pelvis to the sky. Squeeze your glutes at the top, before slowly lowering your hips back to their starting position. Here’s more on how to do a glute bridge

I tried this 30-minute Pilates workout with weights — here’s what happened 

This workout was a slow burner! It started off like any other Pilates workout, but the addition of the weights really intensified things. Here’s what happened: 

I had to adjust my weights

I started off with a set of 6-pound dumbbells and soon realized that for this one, I’d have to put my ego to one side and drop down to a set of 3-pound dumbbells for this workout. Unlike doing a ‘normal’ strength training workout, you’re doing Pilates at the same time, so it’s more of a compound exercise. A few minutes in, I found it super tough, and decided to lower the weights and move with control. 

When it comes to selecting the right weights for you, find one that feels heavy by the final few reps, but not so heavy that you’re compromising your form. If you’d rather not invest in several sets of dumbbells, check out the best adjustable dumbbells for working out at home. 

My core burned

As I mentioned above, my core worked really hard during this workout to try and stabilize my body during the exercises. Pilates is great at working on your core strength, as a lot of exercises require you to engage your abs to lift and lower your arms and legs. This one really burned, and I felt the classic Pilates shake at my desk a few hours later. 

This one really upped the ante

Of course, one Pilates class isn’t enough for me to notice any visible differences to my body — visible abs are the result of a low body fat percentage, not doing endless sit-ups (here’s how to calculate your body fat percentage, and why it matters). That said, I definitely felt like I’d gotten a good workout. I’ll definitely be repeating this one in the future, and who knows, maybe eventually I’ll be able to use those 6-pound dumbbells for the entire workout! 

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.