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12 Pilates Arm Exercises

Updated: May 1, 2022

It is a common misconception that Pilates is only for strengthening the core. In fact, each exercise utilizes the whole body. But, there are certain ones that focus on creating long, lean arm muscles.


In this post, I'm going to point out the most effective arm exercises that can help tone and strengthen your arm muscles, with or without the use of weights.

12 Pilates Arm Exercises

12 Pilates Arm Exercises

Which exercises come to mind for you? Arm weight series? Magic Circle Arms? Push Ups? These are all quintessential arm exercises. However, there are some other overlooked exercises that are surprisingly great for your arms as well.


The Arm Weight Series: 90 degrees front

You are probably familiar with this Series in which 1lb weights are often used to add resistance. By using light weights, instead of heavier ones (even 5 lbs is too much) we are getting the body to work functionally and without added stress. This allows for the proper muscles to engage without adding undue tension. In many cases weights are completely optional.

Equipment needed: 1lb weights

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: Standing in Pilates stance, bring your arms straight out in front, in line with your shoulders, palms facing up. Wrap your thumbs around the weights and keep your fingers long. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees with resistance, then press the arms out straight.

Repetitions: 6x

Muscles targeted: Biceps, triceps, chest and shoulders


The Arm Weight Series: 90 degrees side

Equipment needed: 1lb weights

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: In Pilates stance, bring your arms up to your sides, in line with your shoulders, with your palms facing up. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees with resistance, then press the arms out straight.

Repetitions: 6x

Muscles targeted: Biceps, triceps, lats and shoulders


The Arm Weight Series: Bicep Curls

Equipment needed: 1lb weights

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: In Pilates stance, arms by your side, with your palms facing forward. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees with resistance, doing a bicep curl, then press the arms long by your sides.

Repetitions: 6x

Muscles targeted: Biceps and triceps.


The Arm Weight Series: Zip Up

Equipment needed: 1lb weights

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: In Pilates stance, bring the weights together to touch in front of your thighs. Bend your elbows, bringing the weights up towards the chin. Always work with resistance. Then, push the weights back down.

Repetitions: 3-5x

Muscles targeted: Triceps, deltoids and lats.


The Arm Weight Series: Shaving

Equipment needed: Hand weights, 1lb max.

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: In Pilates stance, wrap your fingers around the weights leaving your pointer finger and thumb free. Bring these fingers together to touch, creating a triangle shape. Bring your weights to the back of your neck. Elbows are reaching wide and collar bones are dropped. Press the weights upward, keeping the fingers touching in the triangle shape. Try to straighten your arms, only if you can keep your shoulders from scrunching up. Bring the weights back down behind the head.

Repetitions: 3-5x

Muscles targeted: Triceps, deltoids, and lats.


The Hundred

This exercise is typically only thought of as a powerhouse, warm up, or breathing exercise. But it is ALSO a very strong arm exercise. I like this one because we are moving the arms at a quicker pace, engaging those fast-twitch muscle groups that we don't really get to in the other exercises.

Equipment needed: 1lb weights

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: Lying on your back, bring your chin towards the chest, legs to the ceiling in Pilates stance. Keep a slight bend in your elbows while you pump your arms up and down. Keep a good pace and keep your arm muscles tense.

Repetitions: 10x

Muscles targeted: Deltoids, triceps.

The Hundred Pilates Arm Exercises

The Half Roll Down

Equipment needed: Mat

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: Sitting with the knees bent, hold on under the thighs while you round your lower back to towards the mat. Resist with you arms while your powerhouse pulls you back. Then, bending the elbows, pull with your arms to bring the head in between the knees. Resist with your powerhouse as your arms pull you forward.

Repetitions: 6x

Muscles targeted: Biceps.

The Half Roll Down Pilates

The Roll Over

Equipment needed: Mat

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: Lying down on your back, bring your legs towards the ceiling in Pilates stance. Arms press firmly into the mat. Try to keep the arms as close to your sides as possible. Roll the legs overhead, toes touching the mat. Keep your neck long(AKA- keep the work in your arms instead of scrunching into your neck) Open the legs and roll down.

Repetitions: 3x in each direction

Muscles targeted: Triceps, deltoids, and lats.


The Pilates Push Ups

Equipment needed: Mat

How often: 3x/week

Instruction: In a plank position, legs in Pilates stance, bend the elbows narrow to your sides. Keep your core engaged the whole time.

For more challenge, bring your heels forward. For more work in the chest, open the arms wide and come up onto your fingertips for the push up. Do 3 repetitions.

Sets: 3

Muscles targeted: Triceps, chest


The Shoulder Bridge

Equipment needed: Mat

How often: 3x/week

Instruction: Lying on your back with the knees bent, feet hip width apart. Press your arms firmly into the mat. Lift your hips up. Avoid lifting too high and losing the work in the backs of your arms. Roll down with control.

Repetitions: 3-5x

Muscles targeted: Triceps, deltoids, and lats.


Magic Circle Arms: Front

Equipment needed: Magic Circle

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: Standing in Pilates stance, hold the circle between the heels of your hands with the circle in front of your thighs. Elbows wide and slightly bent. Engage your biceps and triceps. Then, squeeze the circle. Release. Repeat 3-5x. Lift the circle straight out in front and repeat again, then one more time with the circle in line with your eyes.

Muscles targeted: Biceps, triceps, shoulders


Magic Circle Arms: Back

Equipment needed: Magic Circle

How often: 3-7x/week

Instruction: Hold the circle, behind your back, with your hands along the pads of the circle. Slightly bending your elbow, feel your upper arms wrapping towards each other, and then try to squeeze the circle.

Repetitions: 3-5x

Muscles targeted: Triceps, upper back.


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Magic Circle Arms: Back

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